Chronicle of a Disappearance is a film with very little conversation, almost no recurring characters, and no plot whatsoever. That's really asking a lot from the audience watching it (and it's no small feat to review, either). The movie is about Palestinian life under Israel, portrayed in a series of vignettes focusing on seemingly random events. Alone, these scenes are somewhat pointless – a woman gossips about her relatives, a man feeds his parakeet, a shopkeeper prepares his shop for the day – but together they form a sometimes-meandering statement about the loss of a distinct Palestinian culture in the face of occupation.
That last part sounds a bit like a political statement. It's not, although the movie can't quite claim the same, even though first-time director Elia Suleiman attempts to subdue it with absurdist humor. To convey his point, Suleiman divides the film into two halves. In the first part, "Nazareth: A Personal Diary," a shopkeeper fills bottles of holy water with water from the tap, a priest complains about the river where Jesus is said to have walked on water being polluted with raw sewage, and, among other things, Suleiman holds a press conference where he can't get the feedback from the
microphone under control. The second part, "Jerusalem: A Political Diary," is a bit more coherent, with a Palestinian woman trying to find an apartment and being turned down repeatedly, an Israeli police van screeching to a stop so the troops can urinate, and Suleiman's parents falling asleep in front of the TV as the programming ends and the Israeli flag waves and anthem plays.
The film continues in this anecdotal, sometimes ironic, mostly melancholy way for its entire 90-minute duration, attempting to reflect the lives of Palestinians as a whole. But it also humanizes them, reminding you (very directly – it's a series of gags) that they're not all fanatics and suicide bombers, and challenging black-and-white blanket generalizations that you may have held about the two sides.
Unfortunately, most viewers will have given up on the film long before they get to the point, and I can't blame them. Critics have heaped praise on the movie, but the fact is that it is not particularly enjoyable to watch. Though thought-provoking, had Suleiman given his ideas on what it means to be Palestinian a more palatable delivery (say, a storyline), more people might have cared enough to listen. As it is, Chronicle of a Disappearance is rightfully condemned to art film obscurity.
The movie is presented in letterboxed 1.77:1. The video itself is nothing special and looks
grainier than you would expect from a film released only eight years ago.
Dolby Digital mono. It suffices; voices are clear and understandable. There are optional English subtitles.
Chronicle of a Disappearance is an experimental art film with no storyline about Palestinian life under occupation. If that sounds appealing to you, by all means, rent it. Everyone else can feel free to pass. Skip it.