Bad, United States. Bad, bad United States. For once, I’m not talking about the current state of our political affairs. What is truly disturbing is the way some absolute gems of international cinema slip through the cracks and take months (if not years) to become widely available to a US audience, especially if we have to (god forbid) do some reading while we watch. That explains how it took so long to get around this week’s film, which is beautifully bittersweet.
Bar Bahar (In Between)
3 Palestinian women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv attempt to navigate the forces of tradition and modernity on their lives and future plans.
Our main 3 ladies are rather unlikely roommates facing unique challenges as modern Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv.
Leila comfortably bucks tradition, layering on the makeup for her job as a lawyer, and layering it on even thicker for nights at the club. She is unapologetically living life to the fullest and reveling in her single glory.
Her roommate Salma enjoys a good party too, but leads a double life. Hailing from a small-town Christian community with a family planning her arranged marriage, Salma struggles to hold down a job but tells her parents she’s a teacher. As it turns out, Salma is also keeping her sexual orientation a secret–she is a closet lesbian, which is…probably (definitely) going to cause some tension.
Throw Noor into the mix–a shy computer science student who wears a hijab and hails from a devout Muslim family–and there are bound to be some roomie fights over more than whose turn it is to wash the dishes.
Suspecting judgment from Noor and her fiance, Wissam, Leila and Salma are less than welcoming. It’s not long before Leila and Salma realize Noor is an incredibly caring person and bond. Though Wissam would like Noor to stay at home once they are married, Noor is not the traditional woman she appears to be. She focuses on her studies but seems interested in the group of friends partying in the apartment on a regular basis.
One of the new faces in the group is that of Ziad, a cute and forward-thinking guy who Leila falls for. She is contentedly in a monogamous relationship for the first time in a long while. However, Leila wonders how progressive Ziad really is when he avoids introducing her to his family…unless she starts to make changes like giving up smoking (and for the first time in recorded history I say DON’T DO IT, GIRL).
Meanwhile, Salma has started a new job as a bartender, which is (conveniently) a great way to meet ladies. After meeting Dounia, Salma brings her on a visit home for moral support, which can only end well, right…?
Noor’s story takes a heartbreaking turn when Wissam turns out to be manipulative, controlling, and violent. Luckily, Noor has her newfound friends to lean on, and the trio plots a way to get Wissam out of their lives for good. Even after their plan is successful, will these friends be able to move forward, or will they forever be stuck in between?
4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
Predictably, my favorite thing here is the relationship between the 3 women. Though they don’t bond immediately, they do learn to appreciate the parallels in their lives and the challenges they face. All 3 experience instant judgment based on their appearance and face scorn from different social groups. They all must learn to live with many sets of identities and expectations and in the spaces in between. (On a side note, they all have different body types that aren’t commented on–they just exist. In the world! Like women’s bodies do in real life!)
The idea of living in between works on so many levels here–between tradition and modernity, Israel and Palestine, work and marriage, family and self, law and justice, freedom and safety. This idea lingers; there is some definite progress made by each of the ladies in terms of self-identity, but that doesn’t necessarily drive their lives forward as a whole or indicate they will have more control over their lives or self-expression. Though a feminist film, we as an audience reflect on how far we have to go rather than how far we have come.