I managed to see “Bar Bahar” (“In Between”) twice. Both times, my initial post-movie reaction to Maysaloun Hamoud’s debut was to reach for a cigarette – the first time to calm my nerves; the second time due to profound sadness.
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The film portrays a very gloomy – and, regretfully, very real – picture of the lives of Palestinian women in Israel. And although it doesn’t reflect my life exactly, it managed to touch on sensitive points – on what happened to me, and what could potentially happen – that I’d rather suppress.
The characters, dialogues and events are taken from Hamoud’s own experiences, and her unusual life as a Palestinian from the Galilee town of Deir Hanna who moved to Jaffa. The film focuses on three young Palestinian women – Leila, Salma and Noor – who live together in a rented apartment in central Tel Aviv. Each in her own way conducts a relationship with her conservative past and liberal present.
Nowadays, it’s possible to find Arab films about women who smoke, drink, take drugs and are involved in sexual and romantic relationships. But Hamoud presents them in a positive, nonjudgmental light, a reflection of her own liberal worldview.
Hamoud says she wanted to “make a film for the masses, but one that would challenge the system. I felt that the time had come for a different voice to be heard, to bring down the existing order.” That also includes an urge to be freed of the bonds of chauvinism, patriarchal society and male oppression, and breaking with tradition and the social codes that accompany it.
Although these liberated Palestinian women are living in the heart of Tel Aviv, their lives are “stuck between the two – neither here nor there. But they, like the film itself, rush forward almost without looking back,” explained Hamoud. The film’s frenetic pace was meant to mirror the progressive nature of the characters, and the way they deal with a hectic and liberated existence, one constantly threatened by traditional pressures exerted by family and surroundings.
The typical problems facing many young people today aren’t solved by internal struggles for Hamoud’s three protagonists, but constitute instead a blind alley: Palestinian women who want to pursue a liberal lifestyle in Israel will always be outsiders, both back home and in Tel Aviv. In that sense, the women in the film aren’t really searching for themselves. They’ve already found their identity; it’s the world that isn’t interested in accepting them as they are.
But “In Between” manages to be far more than a film that delves into the clichéd concept of the Palestinian in search of himself. It’s about a new generation of strong women who are prepared to fight for their way of life.
Although the film doesn’t tell my story – as opposed to its protagonists, I don’t live in the Palestinian bubble in Tel Aviv; rarely meet with other Arabs; and generally try to avoid belonging to a specific “society” or “people” – the film reminded me that even in my Western life, three hours removed from my place of birth, I’m part of this war of survival.
Although I have crossed the bridge, people will still raise an eyebrow at the fact that I’m unmarried, Arab men will look at me askance, and I will never be able to share personal details about my life with my parents, since such confessions are liable to create rifts between us.
And for all the courageous choices made by Leila, Salma and Noor – as well as by me and many others – we are paying a high price: The concept of home becomes vague. The concept of belonging begins to collapse. And every day we are forced to choose: to continue the struggle one way or another, or to hide away.
It’s also important to understand the significance of the fact that the film centers on women. After all, we are doubly oppressed: We are Palestinians, a weak and discriminated-against population; and we are women, living in a patriarchal society that often sees us as a punching bag for men whose honor has been trampled by Israeli hegemony and are looking for someone to dominate in order to regain their masculinity.
“In Between” expresses this uniqueness and reinforced what I have always believed: Palestinian women will be one step ahead of men on the path to liberation, because a doubly oppressed woman will do everything possible in order to achieve her freedom.
As Hamoud stresses, life is composed of various shades. Not just black or white, good or bad. There are quite a few gray areas and no-man’s-lands. Therefore, just as in life, a crisis is the starting point rather than the obstacle.
She says the fact that her characters are standing at different crossroads doesn’t prevent them from progressing. “I live in a society that exists in a deep rift. My cinema is a metaphor for the physical and metaphysical ‘non-place,’ and for the lack of belonging. In addition, the place of the Palestinian woman as a protagonist is absent from cinema – especially women like those in my film,” she adds.
It was precisely this perspective that, despite the film’s ambivalent ending, led me to reach a relatively optimistic conclusion. Although the women’s situation is bad and their journey long and tortuous, the only way to hold onto independence is sisterhood. The female solidarity and empowerment of “In Between” present a possible recipe for genuine redemption. And without that, we really would be lost.