Three Palestinian women living in an apartment in Tel Aviv try to find a balance between traditional and modern culture. Israeli and French made film with a Hungarian female director.
“Men don’t like women who raise their voices,” a matriarch says as she waxes a crying, younger woman’s legs in the opening scene of Arab Israeli director Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between. She continues her litany of misguided wisdom: “In bed, do what he tells you.” From this we cut immediately to a group of Arab youth in the midst of a throbbing wedding party, the women snorting Ritalin and definitely raising their voices as they toast the end of a friend’s singledom. As the title suggests, the characters of Hamoud’s film live somewhere between these extremes — between tradition and independence, obligation and abandon.
They’re in between geographically, too. The film follows three young Palestinian women living together in an apartment in Tel Aviv: lawyer and party animal Laila (Mouna Hawa) and DJ-chef-bartender Salma (Sana Jammelieh) are close friends whose tastes and attitudes mostly align, but into their lives comes Nur (Shaden Kanboura), a hijab-wearing, modest student from a conservative family. Her shy, nervous glances at their lifestyle speak not so much to her judgment, but to her curiosity. Together, the trio start to bond in unlikely ways.
In its broad strokes, In Between offers a somewhat predictable set of beats: Nur’s dour, Hadith-quoting fiancé, who looks down on Laila and Salma, quickly turns out to be a repellent fellow. Laila herself finds romance with a somewhat more open-minded Muslim man, who proves his shortcomings more slowly and subtly. Salma, meanwhile, learns the limits of her wealthy, liberal Christian family’s supposed tolerance. But Hamoud’s three bright actresses bring such a sense of authenticity to their roles that this all feels new. All too often films about these sorts of culture clashes feature performers who overdo their characters’ free-spirited ways, as if those who challenge some societal expectations must live in a state of perpetual confrontational hedonism. But here, it’s understated, mundane. Laila and Salma’s lives are their lives; their behavior is not a polemic.
This lived-in quality to the performances and milieu serve the film well. That, combined with Hamoud’s unhurried, restrained visual style, allows for tension, emotion, and meaning to build together. In some ways, In Between is more notable for what it isn’t: There’s little mention made here of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (a restaurant manager berates the Arab chefs and kitchen workers for speaking their own language, noting that it makes patrons uncomfortable), and what little overt politics come up exist largely in the personal sphere. That feels familiar, and true. In Between is a movie not so much about suffering as it is about the grinding reality of just being. These are ordinary women living their ordinary lives, trying to carve out a place for themselves while navigating the expectations of different worlds. Their solidarity is not national, or cultural, but intimate.
BILGE EBIRI, The Village Voice, 4 January 2018.
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 Shalaby, A 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.
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.
Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reprter, 20 September 2016.
|50 (59%)||28 (33%)||5 (6%)||2 (2%)||0 (0%)|
Total Number of Responses: 85
Film Score (0-5): 4.48
135 members and guests attended this screening with 85 responses; thank you. This delivers a hit rate of 63%. The best film score for the Society of 4.68 was recorded for Remember, so this is very close and your reviews and comments endorse that. Here is a selection. All the comments are on the website.
“The film far exceeded my expectations. It was a fascinating and surprising glimpse into a culture and environment I don't pretend to know much about. The three lead actors were all superb, very natural and convincing. Setting up the contrast between the two apparently liberated and free-spirited women and the arrival of the conservative uptight Nour, made me think this was going to be a bit of a stereotypical story. But it developed into a much more interesting and nuanced film as we see more of each of the women's desires, challenges, and restrictions living in what is clearly still a very patriarchal society. We were perhaps not so surprised by the behaviour of Nour's fiancé, horrible though it was. But Zaid, happy to party hard with "sex and drugs and rock n roll" seemingly presents hope that attitudes toward women are changing...until he is revealed to be a two-faced hypocrite. Men really don't come out well in this film, but it didn't feel an "anti-men" film, just a reflection of the culture. Thank goodness for Nour's father - perhaps my prejudices meant I expected the worse, but his reaction was a surprise and a great relief!”
“Well this is a first after 10 years. Never sharp enough to comment just after watching-but always giving a rating I thought I would give this a go. Do not often rate a film excellent but did on this occasion. A fabulous portrayal of bonding, loyalty and struggle by young women trying to grow and survive in a Patriarchal dominated world. Never over dramatic, even the rape scene demonstrating that sometimes less is more effective than more. The first full film for Maysaloun Hamoud? What a talent and hopefully a future. A defining moment in Israeli- Pakistan relationships probably not but I kept thinking back to the first appearance in this country of Room at the Top, Poor Cow and Cathy come home? When the sharp edge of realism entered British cinema. Totally absorbing. Well done the Film Club”
“Thank you for showing a very interesting film, In Between (Bar Bahar). I was slightly sceptical before the film rolled due to previous films this season. However I was captivated from the start of the film until the end and it would have been lovely for the film to show where the Women’s lives moved forward over a 5 year period.
The film location was well chosen, the story of the independence and the restraints of three women caught up in a political/religious regime in the Middle East but are awakening to be strong in themselves and not to be controlled and to seek their own independence and character in life. You could feel the tension of the culture past and present portrayed by the Film Director Maysaloun Hamoud. Well Done!! The Anthropology showing the cultural social changes through the daily lives of the people living in a torn country of either Palestine-Israel-other neighbouring countries all seeking power over each other, was effectively and passionately portrayed in this film, which was very effective and yet subtle in the topic. Through Art Comes Change Comes Healing. May this film be the guiding light? Thank you once again for choosing and screening this film!”
“For me, this was the best film so far this season. I loved seeing these vibrant young women dealing with the challenges in their lives and exploding stereotypes of how Palestinian women should look and behave. Their care for one another, particularly after the rape scene, was moving”.
“Slow starting, but the laid-back style suited the content. In the end, a terrific film - excellent. Gave us a fascinating insight into what must be a completely unseen world for most of us. I was struck by the stark contrast in the reactions of the two fathers. But it'll take a few generations, I fear, before this sort of girl power/equality is widespread in that part of the world”.
“Excellent, best film that I’ve seen so far this year. #metoo. A nice simple film for bears of little brain, a classic theme set in a culture and a political climate that we barely needed to understand (so different yet so similar?). The power of friendship and the need for tolerance. The unanswered (and unanswerable) question about who we are and what we seek. The expressions on their faces in the closing shot could have been a metaphor for the state of the world today. [I’ll read the blurb provided now, and see what I’m supposed to think]”.
“Excellent. What a cracking set of films you have chosen for us. This film (In between) was completely outside my field of reference but it was gripping, moving and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's made me feel incredibly grateful to have grown up in the UK with the freedoms that come with that. I feel sad for the women who are trying to live ordinary lives partying with friends, studying, working but who are subjected to patriarchy. I also feel hopeful in the way that they support each other and are trying to create their lives”.
“Excellent! Three strong women breaking moulds. My kind of film. Great to see Palestinians portrayed as ordinary people with strengths and weaknesses that can be seen in any society. The particular “in betweens" the women inhabit: traditional vs modern Palestinian culture, Israeli city vs Palestinian suburbs and the universal "in between" of females' expectation of equality and reality was very well presented. My grandmother, who was from Nazareth, may not have appreciated it as much as me!!”
“Another very good selection. The main characters and their relationship were developed slowly but in a captivating way, which made for absorbing viewing. Good acting with very convincing performances and a strong soundtrack. Interesting to contrast the parental reactions to homosexuality between this and Call Me by Your Name! Thanks”.
“Really enjoyable and culturally informative film”.
“Another delightful find – and what a start for Maysaloun Hamoud! The film's strength and charm come from its focus on the friendship that grows between the three women who are prepared to take on the world as they remain true to themselves is both endearing and inspiring to watch. The light hearted stuff clashes well with the issues the women face, framed by the conflict between cultural traditionalism and more what independent women knowing what they want. Enjoyed our heroines steering their way in and around their social circles with self-respect and pride; Nour's journey is very well portrayed. Important that the film didn't simply mock some traditional attitudes as 'moslem', (also the threatening intolerance of Salma's Christian family) but was much more about celebrating the independence some women enjoy, but not all. However, the humour that Laila and Salma show as defence at times of conflict or discomfort does come at a serious price; Nour's rape is shocking and Ziad's liberal exposure works well. Oh, and good for Nour's dad! What to make of the slightly ambiguous ending? Not with the three girls dancing together, but sitting out on the balcony watching others dance, unsure of what the future holds for them”.
“Absolutely brilliant. So well put together. The layers it explored – living a lie!” “Great film amd not too long”. “Excellent story, superb acting, cool sound track”. “Wonderful – powerful and beautifully acted. Compelling viewing. Best film this season”. “Brilliant”. “All round excellent. Worryingly believable throughout”. “Great choice”. “Liberated young women unhappy, men just all bad”. “Brilliant acting, highlighting women’s subjugation in the 21st Century. Still happening!” “Great acting from the three lead women. It made me angry, sad moved – how hard it is to be a woman in patriarchal societies!”
“Three wonderful women, all very courageous in a man’s world. The acting was exceptional and the atmosphere so amazing, I felt I was in Tel Aviv”. “Sensitive treatment of age old themes”. “Excellent and thought provoking”. “Fascinating watching the three stories evolving. Such different prejudices love the father protecting his daughter”. “Excellently drawn feminist film. Realistic”. “Fantastic acting. A real insight into what life must be like for young women in Tel Aviv”. “Very thought provoking. A real insight into the conflict as culture changes”, “Excellent film. Best yet!” “Now this film had a great soundtrack. Thought provoking, strong female film. One to ponder”. “An interesting exploration of three different women who all experience the same constraints. More films like this!” “What a fabulous jigsaw of culture, beliefs, interpersonal relationships of families and friends. It said such a lot but gently”. “Massively insightful - complex interwoven lives battling repression”. “Much to think about”. “Captivating”. “Not too long. Makes you angry but worthwhile”.
“Women still have a long way to go! More films like this please”. “Slightly shaky start, but really came together – great soundtrack!” “Interesting to see those young women struggle to be modern and live the life they want yet ultimately be trapped and unfulfilled in the tension between traditions. All those drugs and cigarettes don’t really liberate!!!” “Not sure it represented everyday life – even in Palestine!” “Not so much In Between as In Extremes. Neither lifestyle seemed appealing, offering only total oppression or total dismissive of any inhibitions”. “Depressing that ultimately neither lifestyle was very satisfying for the women and Europe seemed the only hope”.
“Very interesting and thought provoking. It is very hard for the women in many patriarchal cultures to assert themselves. The fragmented style of the film reflects the fragmented society”. “Nosiest kissing I’ve ever heard on screen! Sad film – lose, lose, lose. Good film of a sad life stuck in a misogynistic society”. “I always find how other cultures are portrayed so interesting. Good film”. “Three women thrown together by chance – each independent and each interdependent. A study of bonding. Hope she makes more films”. “Difficult decision for Nour! Very enjoyable and probably very true – can the men adapt to the changing world?” “A strong sense of Déjà vu! Useless bullying men and hideous religion and women relying on each other…”
“Not sure what the point was – certainly not memorable but it passed a couple of hours”. “Nice to see them breathing air sometimes instead of smoke”. “Intriguing, with some striking scenes. A bit too much of a documentary with the antithesis between extreme liberalism and conservatism rather forced. Overall entertaining rather than credible”. “I did enjoy some of the backing tracks, but the storyline left me cold”. “Sorry – good acting but such a lifestyle upsets an “oldie” like me”. “Depressing portrait of mysogenism. Why was it billed as a drama/comedy?”