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.