Memorable and moving

‘In Between’ tells a new story.

January 5, 2017 18:25
3 minute read.
‘In Between’

‘In Between’. (photo credit: PR)

Hebrew title: Lo Po, Lo Sham
Directed by Maysaloun Hamoud
With Mouna Hawa, Sana Jammelieh, Shaden Kanboura, Henry Andrawes
Running time: 96 minutes
In Arabic and Hebrew.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.

About 1.5 million Israeli citizens are Arab, but they turn up on screen mostly as terrorists, and nearly always in a context where politics are front and center. Maysaloun Hamoud’s extraordinary new film In Between (also known by its Arabic title Bar Bahar) changes all that, and in a big way.

The story of three young Arab women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv, the movie paints a nuanced portrait of three quirky characters who, as the title suggests, don’t quite fit in anywhere. Their lifestyles have changed and they no longer feel at home in the villages where they grew up, but they aren’t part of the Tel Aviv mainstream, either.

But the emotional center of the film, and what makes it so memorable and moving, is not a complaint about how Jewish Israelis discriminate against them or how backwards maledominated Palestinian society can be, but how the women struggle to create a new kind of community. No one else can be there for them, Hamoud is saying.

They have to be there for each other.

The movie is almost a Palestinian version of Sex and the City, but the stakes here are much higher. Leila (Mouna Hawa), a high-powered criminal lawyer, and her roommate, Salma (Sana Jammelieh), an aspiring DJ who works in a restaurant kitchen, seem indistinguishable at first from any other ambitious young Tel Aviv residents. Fluent in both Arabic and Hebrew, they work hard and play hard, spending their nights partying in an underground Palestinian club scene. Sure, they have to deal with anti-Palestinian attitudes at times, even in the leftleaning Tel Aviv bubble, but most of the time they are confident, even tough. Leila grew up Muslim, while Salma’s family is Christian, but both of them are fiercely secular.

When Noor (Shaden Kanboura ), a new roommate shows up, we begin to see the cracks in their facade. Noor, who comes from a village, is religious and wears a hijab. An organized, neat computer science student, her only social life is the visits from her equally traditional fiance, Wissam (Henry Andrawes). She is shocked by the hard partying lifestyle of her roommates, and they are vaguely embarrassed by her provincialism. When Salma tells Noor she is preparing to DJ at a rave, for example, Noor doesn’t know what the word “rave” means. But unlike her roommates, Noor seems to know exactly what she wants and exactly where she is going. Leila, although she is gorgeous and charismatic, has a hard time finding men who want more from her than a one-night stand.

When she finally meets someone who takes her seriously, an Arab who enjoys the club scene as she does, she is disappointed when he turns out to be far more conservative and disapproving around his family. Salma is a lesbian, and though her family are educated Christians, she has to hide her sexuality from them.

But Noor’s life is not as simple as it seems, and her exposure to Leila and Salma changes her and creates conflict between her and her fiance. As she asserts herself more, her fiance grows angry, which leads to a disturbing act of violence. Noor’s crisis brings the roommates together and deepens their bond.

Hamoud is a born storyteller.

The movie has a distinctive style, a kind of contemporary noir that makes you feel the life in the cramped, messy apartment and the rundown but exciting streets.

One scene, in which Noor goes to the beach alone, has an intense poetry. The story, cinematography and music come together to create unusual beauty.

All three of the lead actresses are brilliant, and Shaden Kanboura, in the difficult role of Noor, is transcendent. Mouna Hawa has a movie-star glamour as Leila.

This movie, which has won awards at film festivals around the world and in Israel, where it won one of the top prizes at the Haifa International Film Festival, has been playing at sold-out screenings, to audiences of every background around Israel for more than a month. Hamoud has touched a chord with this complex, moving drama that tells a story that has never been told before.

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