The Dupes (1972)

The Dupes (Al Makhdu’un) a 1972 feature film, can be regarded as the epitome of the multifacetedPalestinian cinema that Livia Alexander explores. Directed by an Egyptian filmmaker, Tawfik Saleh, and funded by a Syrian organization, this film clearly fits the ‘transnational’ nature of film production. In this regard, the film is not considered the first ‘Palestinian’ feature film, but instead, a product of Palestine’s ‘cinema in exile’ period, given the absence of a supporting Palestinian ‘infrastructure.’

Relevantly, the plot traces the plight of three exilic Palestinian refugees striving to reach Kuwait in search of promised opportunity. Forced to depend on smugglers, the three leave their refugee camps and set off across the desert, hiding in a vehicles’ water tank at checkpoints. With the merciless sun showing no sympathy, and their fate in the hands of the Arab state check-posts, ultimately all three suffocate amid the heat of the tank at the Iraqi border when the smuggler is held up with paperwork.

It is interesting that although this 1972 film is based on Ghassan Kanafani’s 1962 novel Men in the Sun, it makes several adjustments given the altered political climate surrounding its release after the 1967 war and Black September. This is reflective of Stuart Hall’s media feedback loop, emphasizing the interplay of social, cultural and political dynamics. The film goes further than the novel to represent the Palestinians as victims and overtly criticize the passivity of the Arab nations. In reaction to this, the film was in fact banned in many Arab states. Thus, while the novel presents a socialist critique of the commercialization of the Palestinian cause where Palestinians are preoccupied with personal gains, the film presents a more cohesive face of the victimized and helpless Palestinian refugee.

Thus, the film’s approach to Palestinian identity can be seen as a hybrid of the two dominant trends of cinema discussed by Livia Alexander. Regarding Cinema of National Liberation, Saleh presents the characters in a ‘collective’ national narrative to the extent they are all refugees in hope of a better future, therefore focusing on the displacement of Palestinians from their land. As part of Cinema of People’s Liberation, Saleh emphasizes the disparate backgrounds of each refugee, stressing the fragmentation of the Palestinian experience and the means of conveying a sense of Palestinian identity and community in the face of exile and dispersal. Each, a different age and kind, represent the wide array of Palestinians, including a progressive teacher from Jaffa, ironically making it relatable to any Palestinian refugee.

Therefore, this film represents, as Alexander explores, the hybrid form of Palestinian filmmaking as a result of ongoing tensions promoting the Palestinian homeland, representing the exilic experience of many, and producing cinema under transnational conditions.

Here’s a link to the opening scene of the film. Both the film and the original novel are also available at Tisch!

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