Bar bahar (In Between)

Poster for Bar bahar (In Between)

“After watching Maysaloun Hamoud’s sparkling, taboo-breaking first feature In Between, audiences will have to seriously update their ideas about the lifestyle of Palestinian women in Israel. As the film documents, alongside the traditional male-dominated Arab family structure there exist independent females who are incredibly cool and part of an uninhibited underground scene that looks more like Beirut than Tel Aviv. Hamoud recounts all this in a breezy, light-hearted dramedy of girl power.

Certainly their freedom comes at a price, but despite some dark and dramatic moments, none of the three young women looks likely to go back to a traditional life as a hidden hausfrau, however uncomfortable it can be to live “in between” tradition and modernity. With her mocking attitude and magnetic looks, unrepentant chain smoker Laila (Mouna Hawa) is a sophisticated attorney by day, fluent in Hebrew as well as Arabic, and an attraction for her male, Jewish colleagues. But by night she lets her wild-woman hair down and parties hard. When introduced to a good-looking filmmaker named Ziad (Mahmoud Shalaby, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea), she’s happy to fall in love and relate, until she discovers he’s not as open-minded as he seems. Then her priorities assert themselves.

Laila shares an apartment with her gay friend Salma (Sana Jammelieh), another humorously painted sophisticate who grabs audience sympathy faster than the time it takes her to pass a joint. She flits through jobs as a galley slave, bartender and DJ without great concern. Her conservative Christian family flips out when she brings the lovely Dr. Dunya (Ahlam Canaan) home for a visit, the very weekend she’s supposed to be getting acquainted with a nerdy potential husband.

These tough ladies with a mind of their own don’t bat an eye over the arrival of a fully covered Islamic IT student, Nour (Shaden Kanboura), who has come to live with them. Despite the prejudice her plump, awkward figure may initially incite, she’s fully individualized by Kanboura as a woman in transition, just on the brink of liberating herself. In one of the film’s most shocking moments, her arrogant fiance (Henry Andrawas), who can’t fathom why she wants to study and work instead of keeping house for him and their future offspring, makes an unforgivable gesture of disrespect that kicks the stakes up a notch and sets off a compassionate display of solidarity. Far from shunning Nour, Laila and Salma offer a silent support group by their mere presence.” (Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter)

“What makes this spiky drama so compelling are the Palestinian-Israeli protagonists, whose split lives have rarely been depicted on screen.” (Alissa Simon, Variety)

In Between is a great film. The performances are fantastic—as the gorgeous, headstrong Laila, Mouna Hawa is mesmerizing. It’s not always uplifting but it is compassionate and intelligent.” (Gail Tolley, Time Out London)