In this quite entertaining as well as very thought-provoking first feature film, Sylvain Estibal asks a question similar to the one the great French writer Montesquieu asked in his 1721 "Persian Letters": "How can one be Persian?". This time, being Persian is not the issue anymore. Estibal's more contemporaneous (but no less relevant) question is actually: "How can one be Palestinian... and survive?"
"Le cochon de Gaza" ("When Pigs Fly", in its English-speaking version) indeed revolves around a Palestinian, a local everyman named Jafaar, neither heroic nor radical, who lives hand-to-mouth as a fisherman. One day, he does a most unexpected catch : it is a pig he captures in his nets! So, what to do with such an animal insofar as it is considered unholy both by his Muslim co-religionists and by the Jewish occupier? Kill it? But it is easier said than done for someone like Jafaar who knows no violence! Sell it to someone of the U.N. forces ? But who the hell buys a living pig? Sell it to his Palestinian brothers? He cannot even think about that! Sell it to the Israeli? Not as easy as pie! Eventually, as Sylvain Estibal (who wrote and directed) votes for optimism rather than tragedy, everything comes right, but not without many tribulations involved by hiding the pig from all, including Jafaar's no-nonsense wife, Israeli military and police forces and (to no avail) from Palestinian fundamentalists...
In between, the imaginative Estibal will have managed to develop many a funny episode (the fledgling rapprochement between Jafaar's wife and the Israeli soldier made possible by the soap opera they both watch on TV; Jafaar as an unwilling martyr, ...) and found a few irresistible gags (the pornographic photos of scantily clad she-pigs meant to arouse Jafaar's pig sexually; the pig disguised as a sheep,... ) while documenting at the same time what everyday life in Palestine is like and delivering a sensible message of tolerance to the feuding brothers.
A serious film that does not take itself seriously, "Le cochon de Gaza" is a breath of fresh air in the polluted atmosphere of the never- ending Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. Much of the impact of this pleasing philosophical tale lies on the shoulders of the marvelous Sasson Gabai (already admirable in "The Band's Visit"), a consummate actor who , like a Middle East Charlie Chaplin, gives the character of Jafaar all his lightweight humanity. Thanks to Gabai, Jafaar is at once himself, a poor creature all the others are against but who never despairs and always tries to get by, and a funny and dignified representative of all those who suffer on this planet and struggle for survival.
Sylvain Estibal, on his part, proves a good filmmaker, and he manages to reproduce the atmosphere prevailing in Gaza with faithful fidelity, a fidelity all the more remarkable as the film was , for obvious reasons, not shot on the spot. This is Malta, not Gaza, but you would never realize it if you were not told in advance (sorry for letting the cat out of the bag!). The comic episodes follow at a good pace except at the very end, as where the momentum (along with the pleasure of the viewer) diminishes a little. Too bad the writer-director did not find as brilliant a conclusion to this excellent cruel tale as its introduction and development.
But this is only a slight disappointment. All in all, "Le cochon de Gaza" is a superior comedy with an edge. Don't overlook this good example of intelligent entertainment. And to the question: "How can one be Palestinian... and survive?", Sylvain Estibal's answer is invigorating: "Yes, one can". For, where there is life there is hope. Everywhere and in the worst conditions.