'Hummus! The Movie' Is Informative and Well-Framed
Every day the world seems increasingly divided about politics, religion and the nuances of human life. Now, more than ever —it appears that there is very little that we can agree on as a people. Instead of coming together, we’ve learned to turn our backs on one another, closing our ears and our hearts to those whose beliefs differ from our own. However, there is one thing that people still connect with and take pleasure in—food. When you evaluate food for what it is —fuel for the human body, it certainly doesn’t seem that revolutionary. And yet, in his documentary, Hummus! The Movie award-winning filmmaker Oren Rosenfeld unpacks just how critical hummus and its history are to the human spirit.
Set across various regions in Israel —Rosenfeld explores the history of hummus, examining its origins the Middle East and its journey west into homes in the United States. The film follows Jalil, a Christian-Arab restaurateur who has taken over his family’s eatery and is looking to expand it beyond its traditions as the only Kosher restaurant around for miles. There is Eliyahu; a former migrant turned Hasidic Jew who has several hummus based restaurants across Israel. Oliver the Monk takes turns with his brothers preparing meals, and most interestingly, Suheila —the only woman to own her own restaurant in the Arab market. At age 50 having never been married — Suheila delights in her self-sufficiency and the diligence that she puts into her business each day. Through hummus and the people whose lives revolve around it, Rosenfeld seeks to examine the binds the hold us together as people instead of the ones that break us apart.
Hummus! The Movie is interesting enough. The film explores how the superfood is at the core of so many dishes across the Christian and Arab world. It is the through-line when it comes to traditional dishes that individual groups gravitate towards. Still, what’s most intriguing about the film is its examination of the dogged amount of work that it takes to maintain a restaurant and its customer base. All of the owners/ chefs work tirelessly day after day in the midst of a world where Muslims, Jew, and Christians co-exist. However, there is also a ton of competition surrounding the “best hummus” in the region so pride and familial legacies are also at the core of this film.
The documentary is beautifully shot, with images of the city and the county sprinkled throughout the film. We see everything from the gas fires burning in hot restaurant kitchens to camels grassing on grasses. Rosenfeld has turned his lens on a world that has often been erased from or overlooked in film. Instead of putting the spotlight on the Israel that we know from the news headlines —the filmmaker steps into the country to get a more compressive look at daily life from its people.
Though the film was very even when it came to examining its various subjects — it may have been stronger had it just focused on one person. Suheila's story was most profound. A stickler for cleanliness with a near-magical worth ethic— she shatters all of the stereotypes that have been put forth in popular culture about Muslim women and the lives that they lead. This was especially compelling because restaurant work has traditionally been considered men’s work in the Middle East.
Overall, Hummus! The Movie was informative and well-framed. Centering a dish that seems so inconsequential to so many, Rosenfeld delivers a unique project that unpacks the history of hummus, traditions, and how we connect to one another on a human level.
Hummus! The Movie is now on DVD, and digital platforms such as iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, as well as on DVD.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide