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A searing look at the lives of three Palestinian women in Tel Aviv

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From left, Sana Jammelieh, Shaden Kanboura and Mouna Hawa in In Between

It has been almost 18 months since the Israeli drama In Between had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, but its North American release could not have come at a more prophetic time.

Maysaloun Hamoud’s feature debut is a searing look at the lives of three Palestinian women sharing an apartment in the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv. Their distinctions matter less than the various ties that bind them, such as their quiet solidarity and resistance against patriarchal control.

The first two occupants of the apartment are Leila (Mouna Hawa) and Salma (Sana Jammelieh). The former is a successful criminal lawyer who fends off men’s flirtations from all directions. The latter is an outspoken DJ and bartender – in an early scene, she quits her job because she is yelled at for speaking Arabic in the kitchen – but has not yet told her parents she is gay.

Leila and Salma bask in the groove and substance-fueled underground nightlife of Tel Aviv. Their dynamic becomes more complex when their roommate’s cousin Nour (Shaden Kanboura), a veiled, devout Muslim who studies at the nearby university, moves in.

Nour is already betrothed to Wissam (Henry Andrawes), a man who plans on relegating her to a life of domestic servitude.
The film, currently playing at Vancity Theatre in Vancouver and opening at Toronto’s Canada Square cinemas Feb. 16, seems to have anticipated this moment of #MeToo reckoning. (It also opens at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema on April 6.)

Hamoud, also the film’s screenwriter, lets each of her heroines conquer their space within the narrative. Nevertheless, many of In Between’s best scenes showcase the camaraderie among these women.

In one moment, Nour dances, uninhibited, around the living room, thinking that nobody is in the apartment. When Leila walks in and observes her roommate’s dance, a scene of potential embarrassment becomes one of joy and adoration.

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However, that splendour soon fades away. When one of the women is sexually assaulted, the other roommates unite to help the victim heal, leading her into the shower while trying to wash away the scars of her awful experience.

That incident spurs the film’s second half, where all three women work together to confront the sexual predator. This story shift would be powerful in any context, but there’s a special potency in watching their plan unfold during this pivotal
cultural moment.

MG Saad’s pulsating score, heavy on the electronica and electric guitars, is an apt accompaniment for this urgent drama.
There is also something empowering about watching three 20-something Palestinian women be active and autonomous, as well as try to figure out their place in a society dominated by men – both Arab and Israeli. Hamoud often tilts the objectifying male gaze so that we see men leering at the protagonists, but do not see their perspective.

The uniformly superb performances from the three main actors and the enthralling subject matter are more than enough to recommend In Between, but the film is not without its shortcomings.

With the urban milieu and focus on budding young women searching for direction in their lives, the film is reminiscent of numerous contemporary television series with a similar focus. However, one also suspects In Between could have been improved as an expansive small-screen program: the film is sometimes too sparsely plotted, and one leaves the film aching to know more about Leila, Salma, and Nour.

Meanwhile, the assault that propels the second half of the narrative is shown onscreen in a tense, deeply uncomfortable long-take. Not only is the event upsetting, but the camera is positioned in a way that magnifies the horror and realism of the scene.

The sequence calls into question why Hamoud would choose to show this excruciatingly painful event, instead of having it off-screen or inferred through suggestion.

In Between is also intriguing for being an Israeli production with an overwhelmingly Palestinian cast of characters. However, due to the drug abuse and sexual content her film contains, Hamoud has seen some controversy arise in the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, where local leaders declared the drama to be haram and recommended their citizens avoid it.

Nevertheless, Hamoud received an award at the Cannes Film Festival by the Women in Motion movement due to the film’s feminist messages. The film was also received favourably at Israel’s Ophir Awards, where Kanboura and Hawa won acting honours.