‘In Between’ (‘Bar Bahar’): Film Review | TIFF 2016

Three Arab women living in Tel Aviv enlarge their horizons in Maysaloun Hamoud’s debut feature.

After watching Maysaloun Hamoud’s sparkling, taboo-breaking first feature In Between (Bar Bahar), audiences will have to seriously update their ideas about the lifestyle of Palestinian women in Israel. Like Maha Haj’s Personal Affairs, the other fest-hopping film directed by a Palestinian femme this year, In Between focuses not on politics but on daily life, yet its portrait of social change is most revealing. As the film documents, alongside the traditional male-dominated Arab family structure there exist independent females who are incredibly cool and part of an uninhibited underground scene that looks more like Beirut than Tel Aviv. Hamoud recounts all this in a breezy, light-hearted dramedy of girl power that made its double bow in Toronto and San Sebastian.

Certainly their freedom comes at a price, but despite some dark and dramatic moments, none of the three young women looks likely to go back to a traditional life as a hidden hausfrau, however uncomfortable it can be to live “in between” tradition and modernity. With her mocking attitude and magnetic looks, unrepentant chain smoker Laila (Mouna Hawa) is a sophisticated attorney by day, fluent in Hebrew as well as Arabic, and an attraction for her male, Jewish colleagues. But by night she lets her wild-woman hair down and parties hard. Not just cigarettes and booze, but coke and sexual innuendo are chronicled in the opening disco sequence, which reads like a challenge to straight society. When introduced to a good-looking filmmaker named Ziad (played by Mahmoud ShalabyA Bottle in the Gaza Sea), she’s happy to fall in love and relate, until she discovers he’s not as open-minded as he seems. Then her priorities assert themselves.

The Bottom Line

An end to stereotyped Palestinian women.

Laila shares an apartment with her gay friend Salma (Sana Jammelieh, sporting tattoos and a nose ring), another humorously painted sophisticate who grabs audience sympathy faster than the time it takes her to pass a joint. She flits through jobs as a galley slave, bartender and DJ without great concern. Her conservative Christian family flips out when she brings the lovely Dr. Dunya (Ahlam Canaan) home for a visit, the very weekend she’s supposed to be getting acquainted with a nerdy potential husband.

These tough ladies with a mind of their own don’t bat an eye over the arrival of a fully covered Islamic IT student, Nour (Shaden Kanboura), who has come to live with them. Despite the prejudice her plump, awkward figure may initially incite, she’s fully individualized by Kanboura as a woman in transition, just on the brink of liberating herself. In one of the film’s most shocking moments, her arrogant fiance (Henry Andrawas), who can’t fathom why she wants to study and work instead of keeping house for him and their future offspring, makes an unforgivable gesture of disrespect that kicks the stakes up a notch and sets off a compassionate display of solidarity. Far from shunning Nour, Laila and Salma offer a silent support group by their mere presence.

The atmosphere is revved up by MG Saad’s rocking score and bright, wide-open cinematography by Itay Gross.

Production companies: Deux Beaux Garcons Films, EnCompagnie des Lamas
Cast: Mouna Hawa, Shaden Kanboura, Sana Jammalieh,Shaden, Mahmoud Shalaby, Henry Andrawes, Aima Sohel Daw, Riahd Sliman, Ahlam Canaan, Ferass aser, Khawlah Dipsy, Suhail Hadad, Eyad Sheety
Director-screenwriter: Maysaloun Hamoud
Producer: Shlomi Elkabetz
Co-producers: Galit Cahlon, Tony Copti, Sandrine Brauer, Aviv Giladi
Director of photography: Itay Gross
Production designer: Hagar Brutman
Editors: Lev Golster, Nili Feller
Music: MG Saad
World sales: Alma Cinema
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema) Also in San Sebastian Film Festival
102 minutes