Thursday, 28 September 2017

Fleapit revisted:In Between.

Maysaloun Hamoud's In Between is a mostly low-key look at the day to day happenings of three Arab-Israeli women sharing a flat in Tel Aviv. It's just a snapshot of their lives over the course of a few weeks or so but in that short period of time we grow to become familiar with the characters, to identify their flaws and weaknesses, to admire their moral strengths, and to care what happens.

Budapest born Hamoud is in her mid-thirties so she's done what we're all advised to and made a piece of work about something she knows about. These women are all roughly the same age as the director. There's glamorous Layla (Mouna Hawa) who appears to have a pretty decent job in the legal profession, there's grungy Salma (Sana Jammalieh) who hides her lesbianism from her Christian family and drifts from job to job, and, finally, there's student Nour (Shaden Kanboura), a new addition to the household whose strict adherence to Islam, covering herself, and devoting her time to her studies is surely, at some point, to rub up against Layla and Salma's full on party lifestyles.

Layla and Salam's double act works like a considerably less annoying, Eastern flavoured, and younger version of Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous. As they get glammed (or grunged) up for nights out, swig out of beer bottles (almost always Estrella - some serious product placement or is that what everyone drinks in Tel Aviv?), and reject the advances of unsuitable suitors we begin to see that their lives, like all lives, are not so straightforward after all.
Nour may take a raincheck on the partying and piss-ups but her life is no simpler. She is betrothed to the pious, rich, and condescending Abu Wissam who is dismayed by the unholy 'whores' she's chosen to live with and concerned that their dissolute behaviour will rub off on his intended. Which, to a tiny tiny degree, it does.
Both Layla and Salma find love of sorts too. Unlike Nour they've not been set up by well meaning parents but found it for themselves - at bars and parties of course. Layla falls for the handsome, and seemingly worldy-wise, (he's lived in New York) Zlad (Mahmud Shalaby) and Salma begins a relationship with the stunning and supportive Dounia (Ashlam Canaan).

Naturally, none of these relationship paths run smooth and all three girls experience moments of betrayal and one of them undergoes a truly transgressive experience. That that experience is rendered grimly realistic and in complete silence only serves to make it more stark, more shocking, and more uncomfortable.
Despite this, and other unfortunate run ins with less tolerant types, it's mostly a positive film. The girls and their relationships with partners and potential partners are all depicted realistically but, if anything, the film is more about friendship than love. How when lovers, or family even, let you down friends are there to pour a drink for you, listen to your woes, and help you get back on your feet again. 

The friendships we first see forming over fags and bonding over booze quickly develop into a sorority of strength and a two fingered salute to the stifling conformity of conventional society. In some ways it's a tale as old as time of conservative parents with rebellious offspring who appal them by flipping the bird to bullying bosses, getting ink, and downing shots. All basic, and somewhat dated, signifiers of rebellion but, perhaps, in Tel Aviv still pertinent. The more important acts of rebellion are refusing to stop smoking because a man tells you to, standing up to abuse, and turning your back on a society that refuses to accept your choices in love or life.
If the film has any message it's don't bother trying to conform to meet the approval of people whose 'standards' you don't even respect. They'll never respect you. They'll never love you. Respect yourself, look out for others who treat you with respect and treat them well in return. Drink, dance, and fall in love for life is short. Everything is transient but love and friendships leave far deeper, and more meaningful, impressions than status and bank balances could ever do.
It takes a strong director and a strong cast to make such a small film resonate so grandly and, in the bravura performances of Hawa, Jammalieh, and Kanboura, Hasoum has found three immensely talented actors. From casual scenes like Salma sorting out her DJ set for a big rave and visiting her old school to the tenderness of the friendships between the leads when they're forced to confront the rawest of emotions, Hamoud, and her cast, always seem to pitch it right. مرحى  as they say in Arabic.

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