In Between Review
Some realist films portray a truth that proves to be too close to home for some viewers. This is the only explanation as to why Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud would be slapped with a fatwa by the mayor of hardline conservative Arabic town Umm al-Fahm in Israel’s Haifa district. The mayor took strong objection to her depiction of strong female characters, who have an indifference to their religious upbringing, with all the main issues in their lives all coming back to secular family members returning to enforce their perceived values back into their lives at every opportunity.
It’s no secret that In Between is unflinching, and often cuts close to the bone in the portrayal of its central culture clash. In fact, the film largely embraces it; even the DVD cover comes emblazoned with a quote telling us the director has received a fatwa, suggesting a sobering portrayal of a culture that those in positions of cultural power in the Middle East don’t want you to see. Hamoud’s film could never be described as sensationalist, however, the characters face the hardships of life in much the same way as the downtrodden protagonists of a Ken Loach movie, with glimpses of humour always lurking in the background to lessen the painful blow of its darkest segments.
In Between captures the lives of three women living together in a Tel Aviv apartment. Housemates Leila (Mouna Hawa) and Salma (Sana Jammelieh) are joined by practicing Muslim Nour (Shaden Kanboura), who has moved to the city in order to study computer science. Nour is living the life her parents set out for her; accomplished education, and an arranged marriage planned for the near future. This couldn’t be further from the truth for Leila and Salma. Leila is a lawyer escaping from the crutches of her secular Muslim family, while Salma is an openly gay DJ, with a hedonistic lifestyle as far removed from any religious upbringing as you could imagine. Caught between the constant reminders of their culture and a more free-thinking liberal world beyond the borders of the Middle East, the trio aim to follow their respective paths in life but are always brought back into a grim, depressing reality.
In Between bluntly depicts the most traumatic moments in the lives of these three women and yet it is the minutes following the harrowing sections that are the hardest to watch. Hamoud stages a sexual assault scene by almost entirely removing the actress’ body from the frame, letting the character in question maintain her humanity even if, as a director, she has to depict the act in all its ugly detail. Yet the moment that proves even more effecting is the aftermath; found crying in the bathroom by the two housemates who return home, they proceed to undress and shower her, effectively nursing her back to health. Only in the company of strong willed women does Hamoud allow for any of her characters to feel comparatively weak without ever compromising on the depiction of the most harrowing moments of their lives when they aren’t around.
The film isn’t a flawless debut by any means; it does frequently feel unfocussed, offering certain characters more dramatic arcs than others, and furthermore, doesn’t know how to integrate the disparate circumstances of the three women in a way that makes the climactic sequence feel like a logical conclusion. But as an angry, impassioned work of socio-political cinema, In Between is highly commendable and it’s safe to say that it’s going to take a lot more than a fatwa to stop Maysaloun Hamoud fulfilling the promise of this impressive debut.