By: Addison Wylie
Standstill seems straightforward enough with its plot involving a photographer overhearing and witnessing the brunt of a murder. However, I believe, a lot of Majdi El-Omari’s story is up for interpretation. Movie goers will pull details out of El-Omari’s screenplay and apply them to their own vision of Standstill.
Elements of mysteries and road movies ring throughout the black-and-white movie. Arihote (played by Atewenaron David Dearhouse) gives Wedad, the perplexed Palestinian murderer, her distance after the crime, and doesn’t second guess. He then proceeds to get in touch with his wayward son Karhiio (played by Iohahiio Curotte) when he’s told to drive to Toronto, Ontario to pick him up. Karhiio recently finds himself up to no good. This time, his activities involve the police.
Some will say Majdi El-Omari’s feature film debut is Canada’s answer to Nebraska as Arihote and Karhiio travel back from Toronto, meeting acquaintances on their travels. El-Omari’s quiet crime thriller also reminded me of aspects I would find in a Denis Côté flick. Except here, the filmmaker isn’t afraid to build on his own ideas. Côté would rather display the potential of something brewing, and then turn his back towards it.
But, to me, Standstill was an allegory representating the ghostly presence Mohawk peoples feel they modernly inhabit. Arihote, who is Mohawk, is often overlooked by others and finds himself floating through his existence. He’s content with his photography, but the photos are all that he’s got. When he discovers Wedad, he recognizes her recluse loneliness. It may be why he leaves her alone at first. Standstill is a compelling portrait of helplessness in a society that can too easily ignore.
Majdi El-Omari’s film does have its setbacks. The actors deliver dramatic dialogue and exposition with stiffness, but that’s almost a given considering this is basically everyone’s acting debut. El-Omari also allows his camera to roll for long lengths, to which the elongated takes are only a tiny bit effective contextually as they weight on the audience’s patience.
However, those uncut takes allow our mind to open up and observe the negative space around the story and its characters. It’s a constant reminder as to how barren the world can look through tired eyes. By these observations, Standstill, in its own right, is a mini minimalist masterpiece.