Hummus! The Movie (2015)

Hummus! The Movie (2015)

Everybody loves hummus. It’s tasty as hell, an original superfood, and massively popular around the world. It’s also the topic of some controversy among nations, peoples, and even religions. Where does hummus come from? Which country or people has a right to call it their own? Hummus! The Movie attempts to address some of these questions, including the biggest one: why can’t we all just agree that hummus is the best and not worry about where it comes from?

Hummus! The Movie primarily follows three hummus-makers, all different religions and ethnicities, from different parts of the world: Jalil Dabit, a Christian Arab from Ramle; Eliyahu Shmueli, a Hasidic Jew living near Galilee; and Suheila Al Hindi, the only female Muslim owner of a hummus restaurant in the Arab market in Acre. Each have unique stories about how they came to become hummus makers—Jalil and Suheila both come from hummus-making families and carry on different traditions, while Eliyahu arrived at his craft by a more circuitous route, eventually coming to identify it with his Jewishness. All three are successful chefs, and all three find meaning in the creation of the best hummus. Jalil sees the ubiquitous and multifaceted dish as a way of bridging cultures as well as carrying on his family tradition – he recognizes that hummus has been claimed by almost every nation and people in the Middle East and Mediterranean, and sees that as a common denominator to connect people through a mutual tradition. Suheila faces sexist criticism as an unmarried Muslim woman running her own business, while Eliyahu sees hummus as his vocation.

All the people featured here who are very passionate about their hummus and where it comes from. The filmmakers interview the Lebanese Minister of Culture, who claims that hummus is only Lebanese. Israeli, Greek, and Palestinian hummus-makers challenge this, and a forms the secondary plot in the film as a competition between nations over a Guinness Record for the largest serving of hummus heats up (at the time of the film’s completion, this goes to Lebanon, at over 20,000 pounds). But what Hummus! The Movie ultimately reinforces is that the fact that so many cultures, nations, and ethnicities can claim hummus as their own argues that it belongs no one, that it crosses arbitrary geographic and ethnographic boundaries.

Hummus! The Movie at times suffers from a lack of focus, with cuts between scenes and the overlapping stories of hummus makers that causes a bit of mental whiplash. It’s not always clear at what point in the story we’re picking up again, or why the focus has suddenly shifted. The lack of clear introductions to the main figures means that it can be difficult for the audience to locate themselves in time and place, especially as the people featured move from city to city. The film could have actually done with a longer runtime—it clocks in at an hour and ten minutes—and thus built its stories a bit more clearly, with more explanations or elucidations of some of its secondary tangents. For instance, how do we read the relationship between Eliyahu and Aluf Abir, a rapper who wrote a song about how hummus makes people stupid? How do we shift from Jalil wanting to create a space for musicians at his restaurant to his move to Berlin with his fiancée? And who is the mysterious man in the red hat who gives Eliyahu the best tahini ever?

Despite its occasional lack of focus, however, Hummus! The Movie is an entertaining, diverting documentary. It’s not over-serious about itself but recognizes that the people it profiles do take their work very seriously indeed, and strikes an excellent balance between the inherent humor of being so passionate about a single food, and the social, cultural, and religious implications of that food and who makes it. The correct way to make hummus, the relationship between chickpeas, tahini, oil, and other flavorings, the passion of the hummus-makers…for such an apparently simple food, it’s quite complex—as is Hummus! The Movie.

Hummus! The Movie is available on DVD and VOD, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu.

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A Boy Called Sailboat (2018)

A Boy Called Sailboat (2018)

Although there are one or two big names attached to indie comedy A Boy Called Sailboat, the true stars are a group of child actors led by Julian Atocani Sanchez, who plays Sailboat, a little boy with a little guitar who just wants to write a song for his Abuela. It’s a special kind of film that can rely on children to drive its story and maintain its charm, but A Boy Called Sailboat pulls it off, evading some of the pitfalls of the quirky indie comedy to deliver something truly wonderful.

Each character in the film is fueled by their own specific obsession and constructs their lives around it. Sailboat lives with his parents in a small house in the middle of the desert, somewhere along the Texas border. His father Jose (Noel Gugliemi) dreams of horses and six-shooters, but has to keep an eye on the Stick, a wooden prop painted the colors of the Mexican flag that stops their house from falling over. Sailboat’s mother Meyo (Elizabeth de Razzo) spends her days making meatballs, rarely leaving the house. His best friend Peeti (Keanu Wilson) teaches himself to play soccer, and classmate Mandy (Zeyah Peterson) wanders the halls of their school plugged into her portable Discman. Sailboat spends his days at school, at home, or traveling to the Oasis, a roadside car lot run by Ernest (J.K. Simmons), who recounts the brilliance of his three vehicles while Sailboat communes with his namesake – an old wooden boat parked on one side of the lot. One day, Sailboat discovers a little guitar in a pile of junk by the roadside, which he takes to carrying around. When he visits his Abuela (Rusalia Benavidez) in the hospital, she makes him promise to write her a song on his guitar, setting into motion a fable that will change the lives of the people who appear in it.

A Boy Called Sailboat is so self-consciously quirky that it would almost be annoying if it weren’t so sincere. It’s visually and thematically reminiscent of the Hesses’ Napoleon Dynamite or Nacho Libre, with its cast of odd characters and bright color palette. But rather than exploiting its characters for laughs, A Boy Called Sailboat begins to reveal the layers of their obsessions and the reasons behind them, told through the eyes of a boy with a strange name and strange family who doesn’t consider himself strange at all. Sailboat is a loving, accepting little boy, and those around him love and accept him in turn. As he writes his song, the world around him transforms, drawing on the power of music to elicit emotional response, even without our fully understanding why. The soundtrack is primarily composed of classic rock and folk songs – “My Bonnie,” “House of the Rising Sun,” and “La Bamba” among them– played without lyrics on guitar, a subtle tribute to the little guitar that so inspires the people who hear it.

Centering the narrative on a Mexican-American family provides an opportunity for some interesting undercurrents given the current national dialogue. The film could easily slip into a story about “magical” Latinx people, but evades that, instead drawing on magical realist traditions in an ambiguously American setting, effectively marrying cultural traditions without exploiting its central characters. There’s a deft sleight of hand going on here, and writer/director Cameron Nugent pulls it off with aplomb, turning A Boy Called Sailboat into a modern fable the moves and amuses without going too far over the edge in quirk. The performers, too, acquit themselves well—including Jake Busey, who plays Sailboat’s hypermasculine teacher, and a fantastic final act appearance from character actor Lew Temple. But the film really centers on Sailboat—yes, his name is explained—and Sanchez carries it all on his shoulders without ever slipping into the maudlin or the overly cutesy.

While A Boy Called Sailboat is not going to remake the world of indie comedy, it really doesn’t need to. It’s a sweet, uplifting film, telling a gentle story about a little boy, his family, his Abuela, and his little guitar. The film doesn’t need anything more or less than that.

A Boy Called Sailboat arrives on VOD, including Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play, on February 5.