Divorced after 14 years of marriage in the U.S., a 36-year-old Jordanian woman returns to Amman but finds her hometown, family and friends much changed in the emotionally compelling “Transit Cities,” from tyro Jordanian helmer Mohammad Hushki. Small in scale but credibly observed, the pic shows the capital city divided between increasing globalization and its concurrent expenses, and a reversion to fundamentalism that leaves the now-Westernized protagonist uncomfortably aware that one really can’t go home again. Jordan’s second indie feature after “Captain Abu Raed” should ride interest in the Arab Spring to further fest play and niche distribution in some markets.
Hoping to rebuild her former life, Laila (Saba Mubarak) arrives at her parents’ home without warning — and without mentioning her divorce. The airline’s loss of her luggage marks the first of many frustrations she must deal with: Her once active, intellectual father (Mohammad Qabbani), is now a broken man who practically refuses to talk to her; her mother (Shafika Al Til) and sister (Manal Sehaimat) are wearing hijab and frown upon her Western mores; and her M.A. degree doesn’t seem to mean anything to her former university when she goes to apply for a job.
Laila seeks out ex-flame Rabea (Ashraf Farah), now a cynical university professor who has left his youthful idealism behind. To her astonishment, he must claim to his wife that he is meeting a male friend. Even more shocking to her is the unctuous official at the National Islamic Bank who hands her a small rug and asks her to cover her legs. But the last straw comes when she finds she can’t even do as she pleases in her own rented apartment.
While detailing Laila’s specific disillusionment, the script by Ahmad Ameen, producer Rula Nasser and director Hushki strikes enough universal notes pertaining to cultural estrangement to resonate with expats of any stripe.
Although reportedly made on a shoestring, the atmospheric widescreen lensing by Mahmoud Lotfy (who also shot Egyptian indie “Heliopolis”) provides a good sense of the beauty of Amman and its physical changes. The contrast between the open cityscapes and the tightly framed interior shots underline Laila’s sense of being trapped in a limbo she can’t break out of.
The pan-Arab cast is solid, and the rest of the craft package thoroughly pro, with Nadim Sarraj’s evocative score played on traditional instrumentation particularly fine.
Pic nabbed the special jury prize and Fipresci award at the 2010 Dubai fest.