In Between (Bar Bahar), the debut film by Maysaloun Hamoud, is a compelling story about three Palestinian Israeli women, who are caught between their traditional society and the allure of the independent and open lifestyle of Tel Aviv.
Layla is a sophisticated lawyer. She dresses beautifully and enjoys smoking, drinking, drugs and partying. When she finally meets the man of her dreams, a handsome Arab filmmaker, it becomes obvious that he is not willing to bring her home to meet his parents unless she dresses like a traditional Muslim. But Leila is not willing to change who she is and how she behaves for anyone.
Salma works as a barman in Tel Aviv, and comes from a conservative Christian family. She and Layla host some of the best parties! Salma’s parents are trying to find a suitable mate for her and are aghast to discover that their daughter is living a non-normative lifestyle.
Nur is the most traditional of the three, wearing a hijab, and engaged to marry a religious man. But she is disappointed to discover that he wants his wife to be a stay-at-home mom, even though Nur is completing her degree in computer science at Tel Aviv University.
These three women, although very dissimilar, are facing similar dilemmas about moving from the traditional requirements of life in the village to a more modern life in the city. One of the highlights of the film is the way that the filmmaker makes these three apartment-mates work together in common cause, even though they are so different from each other. They are all looking for a suitable partner and they are fluent in Hebrew and would almost pass in Israeli society except for the fact that they are proud Arabic speakers and never hide it. In one humorous scene, a shopkeeper makes a face when she hears them speaking Arabic. One of the girls says, don’t worry, we don’t bite!
The filmmaker has chosen to portray men in this film in a very critical light. The most compelling male figure turns out to be Nur’s very traditional father, who is loving and understanding of his daughter in the time of a crisis. But, as part of the filmmaker’s criticism of the Arab patriarchal society, the other male characters are stereotypes of Arab men. In fact, in a recent column in Ha’Aretz, Sayed Kashua wrote about how people from the Muslim city of Um el-Fahm are critical of the film. He explains that this is because one of the major male characters is a religious Muslim man from Um el-Fahm who turns out to be a chauvinist and a rapist.
In Between includes a lot of wit and charm. Variety called it Sex and the City for Palestinian Israeli women living in Tel Aviv. Although there is an extreme amount of smoking, drinking and drugs, I found it enormously enjoyable mainly because it provides a window into the problems of women trying to move from a traditional family life to a more independent one.