IN BETWEEN (2017): Review by Eti Or

Bar Bahar is a film about three Arab women living in Tel-Aviv and trying to build a life for themselves — each with her own struggle. One is having trouble finding love without giving away her freedom because the men she meets demand she’d be “a good Arab woman.” One is suffering from an abusive relationship with her fiancé. One is going through the agony of coming out as lesbian to her close-minded traditional family. Life in the big city is colorful and attractive — so different from the closed life they each left behind — but it’s not easy living in between. (EO: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Israeli Representative Eti Or

Written and directed by Maysaloun Hamoud, In Between (Bar Bahar) tells the story of three young women: “Leila Sakher” (Mouna Hawa), “Salma Zaatary” (Sana Jammelieh) and “Noor” (Shaden Kanboura). Contradiction plays a key part in this film and it will accompany the viewer to the very end. The opening scene shows an old Arab woman removing hair from a young woman’s leg while lecturing her about the right way to behave with a man, but in the very next scene a group of young Arabs — a mix of men and women — celebrating a fun night out, filled with booze, smoke and drugs. Old vs. new, tradition vs. modern life, covered vs. exposed, hints of speech vs. saying things out loud and clear.

Leila, a successful layer, knows how to party; she is already a part of the bright and lively city. She dresses in short bright clothes and drives a car anywhere she wants. She had left her old life behind and wishes to find a man with the same perception. Salma, her roommate, is a cook by day and a DJ by night. She likes women, but her family is still trying to force her to marry a man and “go straight.” Her mother says their family is not as close-minded as the old traditional ones, and, as a concession, she tells Salma she can meet with the guy more than once if she wants to before making a commitment. How little Salma’s mother understands.

Noor is the new girl in the apartment, filling a sudden opening. A computer science student, Noor still wears all the traditional clothes and lives in fear of her abusive fiancé (who treats her like his property). She doesn’t fit in because she doesn’t know if she even wants to, torn between her “good education” and this new world she is discovering. When Noor enters the apartment for the first time, she finds a book in the closet – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Just like Alice, Noor is about to go on a journey and be exposed to amazing things she didn’t know before.

At first, the two more experienced women — Leila and Salma — laugh at Noor and keep their distance from her. She represents everything they are running away from: Tradition, strict family rules, hard people and jail-like life. There’s a scene at the beginning, in the car; Noor is wearing her long black clothes, Salma and Leila in bright comfortable ones and in the background is a song playing. Leila repeats the words out loud with a smile: “loosen up girl,” clearly implying Noor.

As the plot advances, connections start to form. The three young women get to know each other better and see one another for the human beings that they are. Each takes a few steps toward the other, bridging the gap with compassion, understanding and empathy.  

Bar Bahar is wonderful. I felt an immediate connection because most of it happens close to where I lived in Tel-Aviv. I know the scene, but the movie provided me with a peek inside a life I didn’t know existed so close. The stories of each of the three women touched a nerve. All try to fit in Tel-Aviv and in its society, while struggling not to lose their family, past and heritage. 

I definitely enjoyed the details in the film. Everything in it is intentional, every little scene is carefully thought out, from the Alice book at the start to the final scene of shared displacement. In particular, I appreciated the use of physical space between the characters, growing shorter as the women get closer in heart.

Israelis use many words in Arabic without noticing, and Hamoud uses this fact to make internal jokes. For example, in the kitchen at Salma’s work, a manager is scolding Salma and another cook for speaking Arab, and says “Halas!” which means “enough” in Arabic.

I have to admit that some of the scenes were hard for me to watch because I felt so connected to the characters and was feeling so much empathy. It was painful to watch some of the scenes and most heartwarming to watch others.

Bar Bahar is an emotional and touching film that hurts the stomach and makes you feel. You hope, laugh, cry and cheer along with the characters’ brave journey. This unique film sheds a light on the hopes and dreams of young Arab women in the big city and their life in between.

© Eti Or (7/11/18) FF2 Media

Q: Does In Between pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes! The three main characters are women and they are engaged in conversations that withstand the Bechdel-Wallace Test.

Tags: FF2 Media

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