Chicken Heads , Annual Arab Film Festival 2010, San Jose & LA

An opening scene takes us to the chastity of lush groves amidst sunny Palestinian farmlands and the innocence of an 11 year old Yousef (Qusai Abu-Eid) swaying along the rhythms of percussion and buzuq on a tug of war play with his pet gazelle—an act his father had uncompromisingly instructed against.

Suddenly, the innocence of nature and child is overcome with the shame of guilt, taking the viewer on a brief 15-minute ride of a much longer journey in the mind of Yousef—a child who discovers for the first time the power of conscience and the exigency to assume responsibility for one’s actions.

Yousef, faced with a moral dilemma when his gazelle kills one of his father’s most precious goats, captivatingly engages the viewer in a series of lies and thwarted attempts to fight off the blame of the goat’s disappearance, culminating in implicating his brother’s pet dog Max.

The latter triggers the father’s blind outrage, who, subsequently, decides to kill the dog by feeding him poisoned chicken heads. However, he specifically, yet suspiciously, orders Yousef to prepare the poisoned chicken heads, setting the ground for a unique father and son symbiosis at a later stage.

Jarbawi films the slow cooking of the chicken heads entirely in extreme close-up frame allowing time for Yousef to introspect about the injustice he is about to commit, which leads to his astonishing confession. Max accidentally eats the chicken heads, yet his fate, that of the gazelle, and Yousef will take an unexpected turn as the conflict resolves.

In addition to the brilliant presentation of the transformation Yousef undergoes, a unique filming style characterizes Jarbawi’s work.

A combination of the use of occasional jump cuts and hand held camera filming of the Bedouin set on the one hand, and the use of folk music and untainted Palestinian accented dialogue on the other, heighten the sense of warm genuineness, as if setting up the stage for the sharp contrast that is to be introduced with the accidental killing of the goat.

In 15 minutes, not only is it the coming of age of Yousef that is witnessed, it is also the power of man’s intrinsic sense of natural laws of morality which, when put to the test, has matured in the case of Yousef.

Chicken Heads is the first film by Palestinian born writer and film director Bassam Jarbawi. It is recipient of numerous awards including First Prize of the Muhr Arab Awards at the Dubai International Film Festival, and Best Student Film at the Mexico International Film Festival. It will screen during the Annual Arab Film Festival 2010 on October 17 in San Jose, CA and in Los Angeles, CA on October 24. For more information go to:


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Dina Abou Salem

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