Mayasaloun Hamoud’s debut feature In Between is a vibrant, pacey Sex and the City look at the pressures on three young Arab women when the ‘city’ is not New York but equally modern Tel Aviv.
Women on the Vergeby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
In Between shows us a Tel Aviv unlike anything seen on screen before. Two Palestinian-Arab women share a flat in the Israeli city – Muslim party-going lawyer Layla (Mouna Hawa) and lesbian DJ Salma (Sana Jammelieh) from a Christian family, who does casual service-industry work. Their nightlife is a colourful, vibrant underground scene of clubs and bars, replete with electronic soundtrack (DJ Saad), drink, drugs and late-night taxis home. Their absent third flatmate sends her cousin Nour (Shaden Kanboura) to take over her vacated room. From a small village, at first it seems she’s a fish out of water in the sexual freedom of this liberal young female household. She’s a hijab-wearing, religious-observant computer studies student at the university, engaged to a domineering, repressive Muslim fiancé Wissam (Henry Andrawes). Things are awkward at first as sharply contrasting lifestyles rub uncomfortably up against each other.
Director Mayasaloun Hamoud’s first film (original title Bar Bahar) is a fast-paced, fresh look at the contrasting pressures of lives being lived ‘in between’ – the three women each have in their different ways to contend with sexual and religious discrimination, racial prejudice of Israelis against Arabs and a new female assertiveness in a patriarchal society. Layla will flirt with an Israeli colleague but no more than that, and she suffers disappointment and disillusion when she discovers her apparently perfect filmmaker boyfriend Ziad (Mahmud Shalaby) is not the liberated cosmopolitan soulmate he appeared to be – she’s too liberated for him to introduce her to his family. Salma can’t reveal her sexuality to her parents who are trying to find a husband for her. When she foolhardily takes her doctor girlfriend Dunya (Ahlam Canaan) home with her on a visit, they threaten to commit her to an asylum. Nour comes the furthest on her emotional journey. Dominated by Wissam, who disapproves of her new flatmates, her horizons start to broaden as she’s exposed to the freedom of their lifestyle and for the first time she stands up to him. He reacts to her questioning of his authority over her with a brutal act that is hard to watch. Its repercussions bond the women even closer as they are drawn together in female solidarity and her flatmates work together to support her in an ingenious way.
The film shows the sharp contrasts (ideological and visual) between the mores of modern city and traditional village life, liberated female friendship and stubborn patriarchy, and the operation of the shifting and amorphous Arab/Israeli divide that has to be negotiated in everyday life. The three women are interesting, rounded – unusual – characters we haven’t seen on screen before and In Between is a breath of filmmaking fresh air in the Middle East – a film by a female director with strong female leads.
In Between premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is released on 22 September 2017 in the UK.