Film Movement Movie Review: In Between (2016)

Bookmark and Share

AKA: Bar Bahar

"Once you express your worldview and your manifest, there's no turning back. Either do something real or don't do it at all. At least that is the way I see things," writer/director Maysaloun Hamoud explains in an interview quoted in Film Movement's press notes for her passionate first full-length feature In Between.

Nominated for a dozen Israeli Oscars (and garnering two wins for her female-centric cast), it's safe to say that much like she believes her "heroines bring their dreams to the screen," she's doing the exact same thing as a filmmaker.

Eager "to bring more Palestinian female representations" to cinema's emerging Arab New Wave, Hamoud’s award-winning breakout festival hit In Between is the epitome of her desire to tell stories in which "a woman is staged in the center and not just behind the male characters."

Revolving around not one but three very different Palestinian women who come to share an apartment in the Yemeni Quarter neighborhood of Tel Aviv, the aptly named In Between illustrates their struggles to reconcile their personal, cultural, and religious beliefs in a city they mostly feel at home in at night while exploring the underground club scene.

Of course, that would be all except for the devout, younger Muslim university student Nour (an excellent Shaden Kanboura) who arrives out of the blue shortly into the film, having been invited to stay by Nour’s cousin – a former, unseen resident, whom we gather never shared those plans with her roommates.

Fortunately not the types to leave a woman in a lurch, while her dorm is being renovated Nour is given what we deduce is her cousin's old room to complete her computer science degree in peace, which is a welcome respite from an otherwise two hour commute from Jaffa.

Though hesitant at first, over the course of the film, Nour (and the audience) grows closer to her free-spirited new friends, Laila (played by scene-stealer Mouna Hawa) and Salma (the delightful Sana Jammelieh).

A criminal defense attorney by day turned queen of the club scene by night, Laila and Salma – a communist bartender and DJ who hides the fact that she’s a lesbian from her Christian family – soon become surrogate big sisters to the less worldly Nour. And nowhere is this relationship more evident than in a heartbreaking yet beautifully moving sequence when they try to help Nour on a night when things go very wrong.

Filmed in an intimate, small space while pulling back enough to offer the women privacy as if we're in the apartment as well, in this scene, Hamoud avoids the rookie mistake of telling us what we're seeing – wise enough to know that when it comes to raw emotion, actions speak so much louder than words.

Drawn to their strength and resolve to the point that we find ourselves wanting to know more about not only the enigmatic main characters but their fascinating friends as well, all in all, it’s a fast moving, powerful, feminist work about life as a modern Muslim or Christian Palestinian woman in a world that may not be ready for them. And sadly, this idea was carried offscreen as In Between earned its brave writer/director a Fatwa.

Obviously this isn't helped by the fact that some critics have foolishly dubbed the film Palestine's Sex and the City, more for the character setup (and in order to score easily accessible pop cultural clickbait points) than anything else. And while admittedly on paper, the character combination of the wild friend, the militant rebel, and the more modest one has been used repeatedly throughout film and television history, Maysaloun Hamoud is up to the creative challenge.

Managing to leave the archetypes behind, Hamoud crafts three largely believable, three-dimensional heroines within the universally relatable context of friendship and sisterhood in what the filmmaker told Vogue (in a fascinating, though spoiler heavy interview) is the first picture of a planned trilogy.

Putting women at the heart of the story in such a powerful way, now that she's shared her worldview with a film and characters that are very real and uniquely her own – just like she's said – there's no turning back.

Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screening link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.