Mohammed, formally called Muhi, is a Palestinian boy who has spent most of his life in an Israeli hospital. An immune disorder and procedure gone wrong at that hospital caused Mohammed to lose both his arms and legs. He should not leave the grounds of the hospital in case he requires immediate medical attention, and his grandfather, who travelled with him to the hospital, is also not allowed to be outside in Israel – it’s either the hospital or Palestine. With Muhi – Generally Temporary, directors Rina Castelnuovo and Tamir Elterman hit us hard with a story of an exceptional young man facing a world that is incomprehensible at best, and deadly at worst.
In Gaza, Palestine, hospitals struggle to provide even the most basic quality of care. Mohammed was transferred to Israel after doctors recognized they were unable to help the boy. The Israeli hospital, Sheeba Tel HaShomer, is filled with people who care for Mohammed’s well-being, from the volunteer that happily gives the boy hugs and reads him bedtime stories, to the human rights activist (and former soldier at Lebanon) attempting to get the grandfather a permit to live and work in Israel.
Outside the walls, Israel and Palestine are engaged in a seemingly never-ending conflict. Three checkpoints must be passed by Mohammed’s family if they want to visit him, and even if all the paperwork is done, there are no guarantees. The grandfather is under suspicion by Hamas of being an Israeli spy since he spends so much time with his disabled son. The boy has not seen his father, and barely recognizes his mother–the grandfather and the hospital staff and volunteers are all he knows and can count on.
What struck me about the film was Mohammed’s larger-than-life presence. Immediately after learning he was amputated, we witness him running down the hallway on prosthetics with a gigantic smile on his face. A child is a child, and a child is bound to find adventure and excitement in the most despairing of situations. And, in all fairness, Mohammed would adapt to his circumstances after being given quality care and finding persistence within himself to adapt to his environment. He is able to play and cause limitless mischief in his unconventional home–and, peculiarly, the fish out of water story is given another layer when witnessing the young boy do well in his Hebrew/ Israeli culture classes given at the hospital. Needless to say, his parents and grandparents have some concerns about his education and potential assimilation into Israeli culture.
As the grandfather asks his daughter, “Are you crying because of his handicap, or because he recognized you?” The film is not just a disability film, it’s also a wartime conflict picture. As we grow with Mohammed, we see more of what is going on: the missiles and casualties that continue to multiply, and increasingly complex bureaucratic loopholes that Mohammed’s family will have to navigate in order to get adequate care for Mohammed and to ensure everyone’s safety.
Despite all that, Muhammed blows out yet another birthday candle at the hospital, and we agree with the human rights activist that by the time Mohammed is a young adult, hopefully guns and soldiers will not be needed.
Sat, Apr 29, 6:00 PM Scotiabank Theatre 3
Mon, May 1, 1:00 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 3