Leila (Mouna Hawa) and Salma (Sana Jammelieh) are flatmates in Tel Aviv, with all the social concerns that implies, as they as a secular Muslim and a Christian are not always made to feel the most welcome in an Israeli-dominated city. Still, they get through their lives knowing they can get to a party and let their hair down at the end of the week, which is not always a side of life in such a potentially repressive society that is often publicised. Leila is a lawyer who wishes she could find love, especially as he best chance for that is a Jewish colleague, and Salma is a chef and DJ who wishes the same, well aware that as a lesbian that's not going to be easy. And Nour (Shaden Kamboura)?
Nour is the unlikely catalyst for these two women to find their horizons opening up, for she is a strict Muslim who becomes their other flatmate, taking the place of her cousin who has moved out recently. She is a student of computing who is probably about to see any opportunities for a career based on her studies hampered by her fiancé, Wissam (Henry Andrawes), who is so devout that religion is more or less all he talks about - he runs a help fund for Muslims in trouble, yet as is revealed over the course of the drama is a hypocrite in his treatment of Nour, pivoting around a scene where he uses rape to put her in her place when she starts having her own opinions.
When her new friends find out what has happened, this strengthens their union, and they set about asserting themselves in a way that an outsider to Tel Aviv would likely not be familiar with as writer and director Maysaloun Hamoud was keen to depict those citizens who have fallen through the cracks of any kind of media presence, and this, her feature debut, was deliberately created to deliver that message of a vast variety of cultures and issues in that land which were often swamped by the headline-grabbing problems of terrorism or Palestinian independence. She was landed with a fatwa for her troubles, making this an even braver move in retrospect. Indeed, so busy with all those subjects was In Between that it often felt overcrowded with what it desperately wanted to convey.
Fair enough, Hamoud was a first time director (aside from a short from a few years before), and they tend to jam as much into their pet projects as they can to make sure the audience get where they're coming from and guide them around whatever effects they wish to bring out in the viewer, and that can generate an excitement in itself as the energy of that mission to communicate can be invigorating in itself. Such was the case here, therefore while it may come across as contrived that three women represented an aspect of life the director felt was important, it was accurate to observe these were not lives often given any space in cinema, not simply Middle Eastern cinema, but that of the whole world, so in this film's goodhearted manner you tended to forgive its over-enthusiasms.
You wouldn't quibble with her concerns, even the peripheral characters had their own stories to tell - what kind of existence did the ladies' male gay friend have, for instance? - and there were glimpses of the older generations here too, such as the parents who try to arrange Salma's marriage with an eligible bachelor, utterly oblivious to her actual sexual preferences. So there was humour here as well, which contrasted with the far more serious elements, though the comparison between cigarette smoking and female liberation was like something out of the early twentieth century, especially when Leila in particular puffed away like a chimney in almost every scene she was in, not something a Western movie would use for that purpose - at least Nour has the good grace to turn down that part of her newly available freedom. This all led up to a final shot representing one of the great "OK, now what?" scenes as the trio weigh up their options, a neat metaphor for a whole generation who really needed to see change. The ball was in the men's court. Music by M.G. Saad.
Aka: Bar Bahar
[Peccadillo Pictures' DVD of this informative film has a cheery making of and the trailer as extras.]