In Between

Sex, drugs and family woes show the other side of life for Palestinian women

After making a name for itself at last year’s TIFF, Hungarian-born, Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud’s debut film, In Between, finally arrives on these shores. For many of us on the outside it will prove to be an eye-opener about modern day Palestinian women, as seen through the eyes of three citizens of Tel-Aviv. Far from focussing on the political shadow that so commonly defines the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, it speaks of the growing change in attitudes and the forward march of independent women out to forge their own identity in life, away from expected family traditions.

Laila (Mouna Hawa) and Salma (Sana Jammelieh) are flatmates living together on the more modernised side of Israel, away from their pasts and families still rooted in their old ways closer to Palestine. Laila is a confident and outgoing criminal lawyer, who parties hard at night and bargains like a demon at work. When Salma is not DJ-ing she works in a restaurant kitchen or behind a bar. She is the more laid back of the pair but just as fiercely protective of her independence. The arrival of a new roommate, Nour (Shaden Kanboura), looks set to create a culture clash, a university student dressed in hijab who is a far more reserved and naive character.

The easy choice here for director Maysaloun Hamoud would have been to play to stereotype and run through a series of staged quarrels and disagreements. Rather than exploit their differences as the basis of the story, instead, these fade into the background and it focusses on the ups and downs facing each of them in their lives. Laila hooks up with the handsome Ziad (Mahmoud Shalaby) and Salma can never hope to seal approval from her parents once she begins a lesbian relationship. Nour is set to be married to the seemingly pious Wissam (Henry Andrawes) but all may not be as perfect as it seems.

In trying to reinforce the strength of the female characters, on a couple of occasions the nuance is lost through the portrayal of some men as heavy-handed brutes. The expectations placed on their shoulders as young, single women in their families is made clear enough without having to resort to cliché. Thankfully, these are counterbalanced unexpectedly by the actions of other male characters to give a more rounded view. Hawa leads a cast full of spirited performances and the confidence she emanates on camera exudes a magnetic aura it is hard not to admire. Kanboura’s Nour is far more understated but no less effective in portraying the trauma Wissam inflicts upon her.

A combination of good writing and a great cast makes In Between come alive, fleshing out characters that feel real in everything they do. It becomes a little episodic in the final act as Hadoum ties up the separate narratives of the three girls and it wisely ends on a grounded note, holding off giving these three women an air-punching finale that wouldn’t have felt consistent with the tone of the film. By remaining true to themselves, each woman comes to their own conclusion about what life has in store for them next and the realities that come with it. Without attempting to be shocking, it manages to be both a warm and thought-provoking drama about modern life for liberal Palestinian women.

Steven Sheehan

Updated: Sep 21, 2017

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