played by Shaden Kanboura
By: Ashraf Ghandour
Sunday morning I drove from Haifa to Ramallah to meet a man with a new coding company that strives to hire as many women as men and to pay them equally for their work. Needless to say I left Ramallah with a song in my heart and the butterflies in my stomach felt like they were on opioids. My next stop was a screening of Maysaloon Hammoud’s film In Between بر بحر לא פה לא שם and whatever it is they call it in French, something about dancing, dunno. Who would have thought that a drive from Ramallah to Tel Aviv could also be a journey through the perils of being a woman in Arab society, no matter what side of the fucking grey hell they call a wall you’re on.
In Between is the story of Layla, Salma and Nour, a professional, a musician and a student living in Tel Aviv. The story of these three women encompasses the lives of most Palestinian women living in big cities inside the green line today. A life, a career, a passion, some friends, a shitty overpriced apartment, some booze, some drugs, some sex and lots of smoking. So far so good, and seriously if not “so good” then you really need to check yourself and what part of this average life you find offensive. Ask yourself if it’s the fact that they’re women, now ask yourself if it’s the fact that they are Palestinian women, if the answer to any of these is yes, get back in your cave cause it might rain soon. Moving on. Throughout their story, these women seem to handle life quite smoothly until it comes to men. Layla, played by Mouna Hawa, is a successful criminal lawyer with a creepy colleague. Salma, played by Sana Jammelieh, is a working DJ and bartender who quits a job because of a racist boss who believes a pleasant dining experience is one that belongs on the Jim Crow episode in the History Channel. And Nour, a computer science student, played by Shaden Kanboura, engaged to what can only be described as a complete disaster. This combination of experienced and up and coming acting by these phenomenal women, including the imperfections, make In Between the masterpiece that I believe it is.
The discourse around this film had aroused an interest in me to go see it, but it also seemed interesting to wait and listen to the word around the camp fire. After being curious about people’s experience of this film and finally going to watch it, I find myself tilting my head like your dog when you speak human to it. Critique and conversation are legitimate forms of feedback and processing. However, to quote the great Judy Dench “arrogance and self-awareness seldom go hand in hand.” The male voices around this film calling it an extreme depiction or man-hating are failing to listen to the screams behind it. We have failed gentlemen. Women are feeling unsafe around us, our decision making is motivated by prehistoric logic and zero reasoning, and it’s probably time we stopped fighting it and started listening.
Other Palestinian voices called it Arab-shaming, as it seems to display Palestinians poorly as opposed to Israelis. Considering the three Israeli characters were hideous in their behavior towards the main characters, I would say a second viewing is in order (or a first, in which case stop talking), so we will not dwell on this much further.
The word Islamophobia was thrown around as well. Hold my beer.
What in the portrayal of Nour’s life was inaccurate or off the spectrum? And how was it absent from the Christian household or the Israeli workplaces? Are women not coffee makers, cooks and potential brides where you come from? Please, show me the way to this magical place. Most, if not all of us in our late 20’s and 30’s have grown up in such homes and worked in such institutions. To me, the “extreme” case of Nour’s fiancé was documentation as well as a warning, and here’s how. Before an atrocious one minute (that seemed like an eternity of having your guts ripped open by Wolverine) rape scene, the fiancé confronts Nour about her living arrangements and reacts violently to her response. Then something interesting and perverted happens, he gets turned on. Violence and sexuality become linked in the patriarchal pursuit of power. Don’t speak Arabic in an Israeli restaurant, don’t refuse a date with a colleague, don’t follow your own sexuality and fall in love with your own gender – all rules dictated by men with terrible consequences if broken. Two of the three characters were punished abusively for breaking the rules, the third escaped with only a scolding. Hammoud warns us that control, rules, and the violent quest to keep women on leashes is rape in its earliest forms and to those of us who need that spelled out, try articles and testimonials instead of waiting for art to come to you. Read about one woman being murdered every two weeks, thrown on the side of the road, decapitated, raped, beaten, used and abused. The real life resemblance is paramount and you’re off somewhere missing it rather than speaking up. Speak up against hate crimes, racism, homophobia, sexism, violence and the shit blocks that build these realities, instead of having a field day going on and on against the artists who tell these stories. Anyway, that’s enough about that.
This film cuts through the various layers of Palestinian women’s lives showcased through the main characters and the many contexts that define who they are. Hammoud takes the viewers from village to city and back again using impressive cinematography coupled with a strong storyline and all like a beautiful painting you can’t stop staring at, flashing the contrasts between tradition and painful evolution, revealing the complexities of each character thus adding depth to their decisions. No human story exists in a void, we are all products of our environment and more importantly, we are all defined by our resilience to this environment. In many cases, we are where we are despite our surroundings, not because of it. Palestinians in Israel like women in patriarchal societies are constantly “reminded” that their achievements are a result of better circumstances Israelis have created for them, while in truth we have learned to rise above these circumstances as a brilliant author once wrote in a sub-par short story.
Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls, said Cersei Lannister in season 4, and of all the gems on that show, this gem hits home like insults from loved ones. In between tells the story of women in oppressive societies, be they Arab, Israeli, Jewish, Muslim or Christian, everywhere in the world they hurt little girls and young women, and women. Hammoud describes our world as a singular entity in which the one thing we all agree on, the ultimate cross-cultural consensus is the abuse of women. No one comes out on top. Israeli characters are as insignificant as white people in a Spike Lee film and traditional Muslim and Christian characters are just a series of empty blessings and slogans, and where do they all meet? Everywhere is the world they hurt little girls.