In his Oscar-nominated short film “Ave Maria,” director Basil Khalil finds room for humor in a exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The short follows an Israeli family who, while racing home for Shabbat, crashes their car into a statue of the Virgin Mary outside a convent. The family must enlist the help of the convent’s nuns despite their initial reservations.
“Ave Maria” doesn’t take itself or its subject matter too seriously, and it’s wonderful. The rule-driven lifestyles of both the Jewish family and the Christian nuns are tackled with humorous reverence. One scene, in which a man has to ask a mute nun to dial the phone for him and hold it to his ear because he cannot operate machinery on the Sabbath, showcases the film’s delicate humor. Likewise, the final shot — the family driving home in a Palestinian car with a neon Virgin Mary strapped to the roof — is ridiculous yet heartwarming.
“Ave Maria” sets high expectations for a 15 minute-long film, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. It wants to achieve so much — social commentary, satire, humor, heart — that it doesn’t allow itself to breath. At times, it feels like Khalil is checking things off a bucket list, moving from a scene that screams “humor!” to a scene that screams “heart!” without allowing his scenes time to be both.
Still, “Ave Maria” is beautifully shot and charmingly funny. The film is full of hope, and the belief that deep down (sometimes really deep down) people are innately good.