Starting off the year with a foreign film that certainly qualifies for being considered “under the radar,” mainly because films from the Middle East rarely get much attention in the States barring an Oscar win ala Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation and A Salesman.
In Between (aka Bar Bahar) is the feature debut of Palestinian filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud, and if you’re interested in exciting new women filmmakers then Hamoud’s film has an amazing energy that adds her to the number of great filmmakers coming from that region.
Her movie is about three very different roommates sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv: Lalia (Mouna Hawa), Salma (Sana Jammelieh) and Nur (Shaden Kanboura). Lalia and Salma are long-time friends, Lalia a lawyer who likes clubbing, and Salma a DJ and bartender. Things change for their friendship when the younger Nur shows up needing a place to stay before her arranged marriage. Nur is a devout and religious Muslim, so the partying lifestyle of her new roommates does not make her conservative fiancé particularly happy.
What’s immediately noticeable about Hamoud’s film is that energy mentioned earlier that comes from the driving house music that opens the movie as we watch best friends and roommates Lalia and Salma partying at a club. They’re clearly not your typical Muslim women, as they’re not religious and they frequently fight against the restrictions placed upon them by Islam. Soon, a new roommate arrives in Nur, who is their complete opposite, being very religious and quite shaken by her roommates’ behavior.
Hamoud does a great job developing these women both as friends/roommates and as individuals, particularly as Lalia and Salma have to decide whether to resist or accept attention from various men. Salma is actually more into women, as we discover, which would come to a big shock to her parents who are trying to place her in a typical arranged marriage.
All three women have to deal with being Palestinian living in Israel where they’re constantly reprimanded for speaking Arab and face racism in all aspects of their lives.
The film does get pretty dark as it goes along, especially when it delivers a shocking and unexpected twist, and it becomes more about the women getting revenge on the man responsible for committing a terrible offense.
Apparently, the content of Hamoud’s film angered enough Muslims that they declared a “fatwa” against the movie due to its drug and alcohol use and homosexuality. Unlike the recent season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, there is nothing funny about death threats, and hopefully, people will be interested in the film for its content, its message and the storytelling rather than due to the somewhat negative publicity surrounding that fatwa.
In Between is now playing at the Landmark Sunshine in New York, and it will open at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts in L.A. starting Jan. 12. You can check out the trailer below, and hopefully Film Movement will be able to get this great film out to other regions of the country.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor
Under the Radar is a weekly column focusing on one or two movies that you might have missed or wouldn’t have heard much about since they have limited marketing budgets. These aren’t reviews per se and they won’t always be about movies I necessarily like — just movies you should know about and any social implications they might have that would make them worthwhile viewing.