Just how complicated things are in the Middle East — and yet how connected the disparate parties are — is the real subject of “House Salad,” Egyptian helmer Nadia Kamel’s intimate look at her complex family background. A welcome reminder that beyond politics lie people with much more in common than their leaders are willing to acknowledge, the multilingual, multiethnic docu benefits from a hugely sympathetic lead subject and her equally charming grandson. Despite tech problems, pic needs to be seen in Arab lands as well as Israel and beyond, where likeliest venues will be fests and cable.
When Kamel accompanied her young nephew Nabeel to his first mosque ceremony in Cairo, she was disturbed by the rhetoric of hate spouted by the mullah and decided it was time to make a film explaining the family roots. Linchpin is her mother Mary, also called Na’ela, a warm woman in her 70s with quite a tale to tell.
Though many of her neighbors and even some in-laws know her as a tolerant, non-religious Muslim, Mary was born in Cairo to a Jewish father, Elie Rosenthal, and an Italian Catholic mother. She converted to Islam when she married her husband, Sa’ad, but was active in the communist party and later spent seven years in prison for her political activities.
In 1946, Mary’s parents and brother moved to Italy when Nasser’s anti-foreigner policies made life untenable for non-Arab Egyptians. Kamel travels with her parents, sister Dina and nephew Nabeel to the Italian town of Ripatransone to see the relatives, where discussions of the golden years in Cairo segue into tales of the family’s frustrating initial statelessness within Europe.
Young Nabeel knows this problem all too well. With a mother of mixed birth and a Palestinian father, he’s also technically without a country, registered in Gaza but unable to travel to Israel. This proves a significant hurdle for Kamel when she decides the family should visit the relatives in Tel Aviv, since the mere idea of traveling to the “Zionist state” is anathema to friends and neighbors.
The trip becomes a cathartic journey, with Mary’s personal revelations providing the docu’s most moving moment as well as its finest lesson.A little trimming of extraneous material is necessary, but docu’s major drawback is the vid quality: Apart from overall graininess due to obviously cheap equipment, the focus proves maddeningly unstable within scenes. Sound, however, is acceptable.