×

Film Review: ‘In Between’ (Bar Bahar)

With:
Mouna Hawa, Shaden Kanboura, Sana Jammalieh.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5974388/

While films and TV series about the trials and tribulations of female friends living, loving, and working in a big city may be fairly common (“Sex and the City” and “Girls” to name a couple), Arab-Israeli writer-director Maysaloun Hamoud refreshes the genre’s tropes with her energetic feature debut “In Between.” What makes this spiky dramedy so compelling are the Palestinian-Israeli protagonists, whose split lives have rarely been depicted on screen. These strong, modern, sexually active women, living independently in the center of Tel Aviv, away from their families and the weight of tradition, struggle to be true to themselves when confronting the expectations of others. With many hooks for promotion, this engrossing tale should have a strong festival career; niche art-house life is possible in some territories.

Equally fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, and dressing in a way that makes them completely indistinguishable from their Jewish contemporaries, ultra-chic lawyer Layla (seductively played by the striking Mouna Hawa) and her flat-mate, lesbian disc jockey Salma (Sana Jammelieh), are part of a Palestinian cultural underground scene. They party until the wee hours at clubs with kick-ass music and partake of drink and drugs with a set of bohemian friends. Salma adopts a more submissive persona when dutifully visiting her conservative Christian family, whose members all believe that she is a music teacher and continue to invite potential suitors over for dinner. On the other hand, realist Layla, who refuses to compromise her lifestyle and remains separate from her family, neatly nixes the romantic attentions of a Jewish attorney, saying, “let’s keep our flirtation fun.”

When good Muslim girl Nour (Shaden Kanboura), a hijabi graduate student from a small village, comes to occupy the third bedroom in Layla and Salma’s apartment, the stage would seem to be set for confrontation, but Hamoud defies expectations by showing the developing sisterhood between all the roommates. Not only do they have in common the uneasy status of being Arab-Israelis (and thus “other”) in a predominantly Jewish society, but they share the problem of finding the right, supportive, understanding romantic partner.

Nour’s hypocritical fiancé Wissam (Henry Andrawes) doesn’t understand why she wants to continue her studies and go on to work. He believes that eventually she will stay home, run their household, and mother their children. Diametrically, as Nour’s perspectives on the world broaden due to her exposure to Layla, Salma, and their friends, Wissam’s continue to narrow. He accuses Nour of being a whore like her roommates, and, shockingly, treats her like one.

While working as a bartender, Salma meets an attractive young doctor named Dunya (Ahlam Canaan) and they embark on an affair. But she can’t resist playing with fire and brings her new girlfriend to her parents’ place during the unveiling of yet another potential husband.

Meanwhile, when Layla meets handsome filmmaker Ziad (Mahmoud Shalaby, “A Bottle in the Gaza Sea”), sparks fly and her heart sings for the first time in ages. But Ziad, despite having lived abroad and having a penchant for drink and drugs, can’t completely escape his conservative roots. He’s embarrassed to introduce the sexily dressed Layla to his village-dwelling sister and he criticizes her nonstop cigarette smoking.

Hamoud’s clever, nuanced screenplay offers a critique of traditional, patriarchal Palestinian society, threatened by modernity, feminine power, and the court of public opinion. It also highlights the casual racism of Israeli-Jewish society toward Arabs, from the people on the street who might shy away from a woman in a headscarf to the snarky manager at the restaurant where Salma works who yells at the kitchen staff for speaking to each other in Arabic.

While the entire cast is aces, the three leads, and the chemistry among them, are especially fine; they poignantly convey the sense of living “in between” and the toll that it takes on their lives. Cinematographer Itay Gross shows the freedom and vibrancy of the women’s Tel Aviv life with bright colors and wide open spaces in contrast to the dull colors and claustrophobic spaces of village life. The rousing original score by MG Saad and precision cutting of Lev Goldser and Nili Feller keep things pacey.

“In Between” marks this year’s second Israeli production by an Arab-Israeli female director, following the Cannes “Un Certain Regard”-selected “Personal Affairs” by Maha Haj.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'In Between' (Bar Bahar)

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema). (Also in San Sebastian Film Festival.) Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: (Israel-France) A Deux Beaux Garçons Films, En Compagnie des Lamas production. Producer: Shlomi Elkabetz. Executive producers: Galit Cahlon, Tony Copty, Sandrine Brauer, Aviv Giladi.

Crew: Director, writer: Maysaloun Hamoud. Camera (color0: Itay Gross. Editor: Lev Golster.

With: Mouna Hawa, Shaden Kanboura, Sana Jammalieh.

More Film

  • Minions Rise of Gru

    'Minions: Rise of Gru,' 'Sing 2' Release Dates Pushed Back, 'Wicked' Indefinitely Delayed

    Universal Pictures is shaking up its release calendar, setting new dates for Illumination’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Sing 2.” The “Minions” sequel will now hit theaters next summer, on July 2, 2021. “Sing 2,” originally set to open on that date, has been pushed to Dec. 22, 2021, leaving “Wicked,” an adaptation of [...]

  • Former Hulu Chief Jason Kilar Named

    Former Hulu Chief Jason Kilar Named CEO of WarnerMedia

    Former Hulu chief Jason Kilar has been named CEO of WarnerMedia, giving him oversight of Warner Bros., HBO, the Turner cable assets and the company’s nascent HBO Max streaming platform. Kilar succeeds John Stankey, who was upped in September to AT&T president and chief operating officer. Kilar’s name had surfaced as a contender for the [...]

  • Cargo

    'Cargo': Film Review

    Another word for “Cargo,” a truly unique blend of Hindu mythology and mid-concept science fiction about a futuristic new process by which the recently deceased are beamed onto a spaceship far away in order to have their memories wiped and their souls cleansed for reincarnation, might be “baggage” — as in, dead people show up [...]

  • HTC Headset

    Taiwan Launches Int'l Grant Scheme to Boost VR Content Production

    Taiwan has launched a grant scheme to boost the island’s status as a global hub for virtual reality production. It is offering finance to projects co-produced by companies established in Taiwan and internationally, but excluding those from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. The three-year Immersive Content Grant for International Joint Ventures or Co-Productions under [...]

  • Extinction

    Coronavirus Causes 85% Crash in Asia Box Office

    Theatrical box office in the Asia-Pacific region tumbled a massive 85% in the first two months of the year. The coronavirus caused cinema closures, audience hesitation, and a halving of the number of film releases. Asia is home to the five of the top ten cinema markets outside North America. According to data from the [...]

  • Lindsay Lindenbaum on 'Tomboy,' Female Drummers,

    How 'Tomboy' Filmmaker Used SXSW Cancellation to Fine-Tune Her Film

    “Tomboy” filmmaker Lindsay Lindenbaum spent five years following four female drummers trying to make it in a male-dominated world. Lindenbaum profiles Bobbye Hall, a drummer who started at Motown Records in the late ’60s and later toured with Bob Dylan. Samantha Maloney, whose obsession with MTV’s “Headbangers Ball” as a teenager led her to fall [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content