The Time That Remains: A Review

The Time That Remains: Chronicle of a present absentee, a film by Palestinian director Elias Suleiman, tells the semi-autobiographical story of life in Palestine from al-Nakba. The story begins with Fouad Suleiman as a resistance fighter in the 1940s and follows their life until the 1980s with Elias visiting his mother in Nazareth. It is told in four parts at different points in time and highlight different characters.

Suleiman commands an impressive use of visual storytelling. “A picture is worth a thousand words” rings true in this film. There is hardly any dialogue to distract from these visuals, as many of the scenes involve only short conversations, if any at all. The lack of conversation between characters leaves it up to the viewer to understand what is happening in quieter scenes. While it is not necessary to have a deep understanding al-Nakba and the events that followed to appreciate the film, a little background knowledge makes each scene more meaningful. Throughout the film there are various dramatic scenes with humor infused. In one scene, there is a man taking his trash out with a tank positioned right outside his gate and follows him as he goes in and out of his yard. At the end of the film, Elias is in the hallway at a hospital when a variety of people are coming and going, which include a police officer handcuffed to a gangster who is leading him through the hallway and even stops the officer so he can get a cigarette.

With the word “time” in the title, it must be an important element of the film. The passage of time is made clear in each distinct part, as they center around different historical events. There is also a repetition of certain scenes in the parts to highlight this as well, such as Elias’ mother’s letters. Throughout the time shown, the one thing that is present in each part is Palestinians protesting Israel, from the 1940s to present day.

Elias’ character, both as a child and an adult, is someone who observes what is happening around him. As a child he is shown being scolded for saying that “America is imperialist,” but when he comes back to Nazareth as an adult, he is only ever a silent observer, like in the scene at the hospital and the man taking out his trash. Contrasted to the first half of the film, which mostly focuses on Fouad who is a man of action, Elias looks rather indifferent to his surroundings.

Overall, the film does not overtly send you any sort of political message, as they say nothing. However, by watching the events unravel and the characters age, the viewer is invited to form their own thoughts.  The visual storytelling gives no explanations but shows the people, their lives, and their land after al-Nakba.