What it's about: Leila and Salma are two young Palestinian women who live together in the center of Tel Aviv. Their parties, drugs, and random sexual encounters may be nontraditional relative to many Palestinian women, but they are responsible and successful. When Nour, a devout traditional Muslim, takes over the extra room in their apartment, they build a relationship through their differences and similarities as strong women. Nour's fiancee disapproves of her new living situation, causing a rift in their relationship and an even stronger pact between the roommates.
In the small handful of Palestinian films I've seen, I don't believe any have been centered around around or counter-cultures. Just for this, In Between feels important.
The limited number of Palestinian films may result in the prevalent focus on the conflict with Israel, which makes some sense given the global importance and inherent cinematic drama. While In Between has some touches on the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is much more broadly thematic, with more emphasis on issues of religion, marriage, sex, women's rights, and lifestyle choices.
The film is really anchored on the performances of Mouna Hawa, Sana Jammelieh, and Shaden Kanboura as Leila, Salma, and Nour. Each character is distinctive and well drawn. How they relate to each other, however, makes them even more compelling. As the plot seems to set them up in conflict over their different lifestyles and religious beliefs, In Between really showcases tolerance and the importance of female friendship. Given the strong cultural contexts, the already unique female friendship film is all the more interesting.
Interestingly, though, the film's narrative really picks up in the second half when each character gets more isolated individual plot lines. Nour and Salma's stories are particularly heartbreaking -- Nour's frightening altercation with the fiancee she no longer loves and Salma's family drama when they realize she is a lesbian. Leila gets a bit of short shrift on the dramatic front though she remains the most charismatic and compelling screen presence of the three.
The three women come back together in the final act in something of a revenge subplot. Given the dramatic circumstances, it doesn't exactly revel in the revenge, but it is again another compelling act of female friendship. The ingenuity, strength, rebelliousness, and resourcefulness of these women come off extraordinarily in the film's final moments.
A film so strong in women's stories could only be made by a woman and Maysaloun Hamoud has a clear and decisive perspective. Her filmmaking style isn't extraordinary, though In Between is well shot and constructed, it is her focus on characters and fearlessness in telling controversial stories that makes the film special. Her achievement as a female filmmaker coming from a still traditional and narrow film culture and bringing these issues tot he forefront is important.
In Between was produced and championed by filmmaker Shlomi Elkabetz, who co-directed one of my absolute favorite films in recent years, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem with his tragically deceased sister Ronit.
The film's final image of the three women standing silently together, slightly broken but defiant against their oppressors is a fine image to end on.