In Between

 

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A portrait of free-spirited women who were described by Isabelle Huppert as true heroines of our 

time.

    
 In Between

 

This striking film is a first feature by Maysaloun Hamoud who is both writer and director. Set in Tel Aviv, its focus is on three contrasted Palestinian women who are sharing an apartment there. Hamoud belongs to a group of young filmmakers whose aim is to promote Arab culture and the dialogue in this subtitled film is partly in Arabic and partly in Israeli. Early on, one of them, Salma (Sana Jammalieh), walks out of a job in the kitchen of a restaurant when instructed not to speak in Arabic in case it offends the customers. This underlines the fact that In Between is looking at women caught between two cultures, but it is equally relevant to emphasise that they are involved in a clash between the modern and the traditional. Salma, with a ring in her nose, finds fresh work in a bar and wants to be a DJ, while Laila (Mouna Hawa), as her tattoos show, is equally modern in outlook. In contrast, the latest girl to join them is Nour (Shaden Kanboura) who is devout and usually wears a hijab. She seems resigned to being in a long engagement to marry a man named Wissam (Henry Andrawes) whom she so does not love but who is acceptable to her father.

 

Despite the unfamiliar ground that this situation represents, In Between makes good use of some established film conventions. Thus, the three friends are given equal weight and, in effect, a story is assigned to each of them. If Nour will have her life changed by Wissam’s behaviour, Laila, a lawyer, will discover fresh sides to her lover, Ziad (Mahmood Shalabi), while Salma (hardly surprisingly since this is a Peccadillo release) will find herself drawn into a relationship with a female trainee doctor, Dunia (Ahlam Canaan). But, if the concept of intertwined storylines is far from new, Hamoud and her players bring to the film an unusual degree of commitment that connects with the audience. One feels it as something that goes beyond the mere sense of everybody doing their best: it is far deeper than that.

 

In one respect In Between seems problematic but not in a way that explains the hostility of some - I refer here to the hostility that led to a fatwa being issued against Hamoud in Palestine. The film is deliberately even- handed and it benefits from the way in which viewers are encouraged to be sympathetic to all three women regardless of their outlook. However, Laila and Salma in embracing the freedom of a modern life-style spend an inordinate amount of time partying, drinking and, above all, taking drugs. Hamoud claims that this is authentic in that much in the Arab world today echoes the 1960s elsewhere. But what the film makes of this is unclear (at first the film shows it without comment, but at the end the girls seem to be turning their backs on the ‘fun’ that they have previously enjoyed). In any case, that modernity should mainly be represented in these limited terms is a pity, or so it seems to me. Even so, this is a film to seek out. It offers superb performances from all three leading actresses and a delicate touch both when it comes to the lesbian romance and to the scene of understanding ultimately shared by Nour and her father..

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Mouna Hawa, Shaden Kanboura, Sana Jammalieh, Mahmood Shalabi, Henry Andrawes, Ahlam Canaan, Alman Daw, Riyad Sliman, Firas Nassar, Tamer Naffar Suheil Haddad.

 

Dir Maysaloun Hamoud, Pro Shlomi Elkabetz, Screenplay Maysalhoun Hamoud, Ph Itay Gross, Art Dir Hagar Brotman, Ed Lev Goltser and Nili Feller, Music M. G. Saad, Costumes Li Alembik.

 

Deux Beaux Garçon Films/En Compagnie des Lamas-Peccadillo Pictures.
103 mins. Israel/France. 2016. Rel: 22 September 2017. Cert. 15.