by Joanna van der Veen
Maysaloun Hamoud’s feature debut is a cinematic treat, by turns darkly comic, heart-warming and heart-breaking.
In Between (2016) is about the lives of three young Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv. Laila (Mouna Hawa) is a sharp-witted and self-confident lawyer, who chain-smokes, parties hard and has one of the best collections of sunglasses in the history of cinema. She lives with Salma (Sana Jammalieh), an aspiring DJ whose Christian parents are desperate to marry her off, unaware that she’s actually a lesbian. The film starts when conservative and religious computer science student Nour (Shaden Kanboura) moves into their flat, disappointing and enraging her suspicious and self-righteous fiancée.
Though on the surface the women are wildly different, the film shows each of them fighting closely related battles for independence, happiness and self-realisation. Laila struggles when a whirlwind romance goes sour; Salma falls in love and doesn’t know how to square her feelings with her parents’ expectations; and Nour’s life is turned upside down when her fiancée shows the dark side of his character.
Hamoud’s direction is impressive: she makes use of constrained camera shots and unusual angles to heighten tension throughout the film, mixing them with wide and swooping views of Tel Aviv, many of them from the apartment’s balcony. There is something very realistic about the way the shots are captured, making you feel as if you are a fly on the wall of someone else’s life. And it really does feel like someone else’s life: the cast is pretty much without fault (though the three leading ladies steal the show), something that’s particularly impressive given that almost all of them are first-time actors.
The film is pushed along by a fantastic, addictive and fast-paced soundtrack, which features some songs written and recorded especially for the film. Hamoud also wrote the script, a candid and nuanced piece of work that is mixed with a fair dose of improvisation, giving the film a heady and spontaneous enthusiasm.
The ‘in between’ of the title is the figurative zone that the three main characters inhabit: a space between tradition and modernity, liberalism and conservatism, freedom and repression, religion and secularism. In this way, In Between touches on socio-political issues that are very much of its setting, embodying them in a way a wider audience can relate to.
But, at heart, In Between is a story about friendship, and about the struggle to be true to yourself. Spending time with Laila, Salma and Nour is eye-opening and enjoyable; they feel like real people, crushing stereotypes from the outset and giving us an insight into their worlds. They are constrained by religion, family and societal expectations, but their stories are also universal and relatable.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a happy film by any means, and its open ending may well leave you frustrated. But it’s a gripping piece of cinema, and well worth the price of admission.
Joanna van der Veen / Writer (London, UK – 1990) Joanna splits her time between freelance translation, writing and working for a local urban regeneration project. She loves films that err a little bit on the strange side, and previously worked for a multi-language radio station dedicated to independent cinema, attending a whirlwind of film festivals from London to Mar del Plata.