The Memphis-rooted drama had its world premiere at the Nashville Film Festival this evening.
One of the most often forgotten news items in today’s world is the ongoing Syrian civil war and its repercussions. It has been covered in film, sure. But the impact the war has had in film has barely made a blip here in the states. Jacir focuses on a survivor of the war trying to adjust to life here in Tennessee. This fish out of water story might be familiar around the edges, but it is timely in the current landscape of immigration, politics, and the misconception many Americans have regarding those trying to make better lives for themselves here.
Jacir tells the story of a refugee, whose name provides the title of the film, adjusting to life in Memphis, Tennessee after surviving the on-going war in Syria. Knowing very little English and having just a couple of friends, he works at a small restaurant during the day and lives next door to an opioid-addicted (and alcoholic) neighbor named Meryl, who also happens to be ultra conservative and Islamophobic. On top of all that, Jacir is also trying to stay lowkey to avoid an I.C.E. agent who is sniffing around.
Like any young adult, we see Jacir trying to come out of his shell, while also making mistakes along the way. And more importantly, we also see him go through the trials and tribulations immigrants face in all facets when coming to America, especially in the misconceptions of millions of Americans regarding people who come from other countries as being here “illegally” or just looking to get by for free. Not only do we see Jacir having to endure this attitude, but it also is aimed at the family who runs the restaurant where he works. Writer and director Waheed AlQawasmi hones in on these misperceptions, making sure the viewer knows how often immigrants are unfairly treated here. Many Americans overlook the valuable contributions immigrants make to the workforce while simultaneously mistakenly believing that they pay no taxes.
While the journey we see Jacir (Malek Rahbani) go through is the perfect example of what many other immigrants face on a daily basis, it’s refreshing to see the character development of Meryl (Academy Award nominee Lorrain Bracco) go through in this film. Her transformation is one that isn’t often explored in film or tv, especially seeing the perception of a group of people flipped upside down once they get to know the character.
Malek Rahbani is exceptional as the movie’s titular character. Brimming with talent, he holds his own throughout the film, especially in its quieter moments. It’s also good to see Bracco, who hasn’t been featured in many films over the past few years, show up in this indie production and deliver another great supporting performance. Both of these actors also have great chemistry when on-screen together. Another performance worth highlighting is Darius Tutwiler’s, who plays Jacir’s friend and coworker.
Jacir’s story is one of millions that happen across the country on a daily basis. It serves as a reminder of how we are culturally divided in many areas. And with just a better understanding of what we think we know, things can change, and everyone can do better. Instead of sticking so stubbornly to politically motivated viewpoints that come from our TV screens or phones, maybe a firsthand account of the real struggles other people endure can possibly change a few minds.