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Review. Maysaloun Hamoud’s new film, In Between, has caused controversy from conservatives and praise from everybody else.

Being a progressive Palestinian woman in Israel

Leila, Salma and Noor are the protagonists of the first film by Maysaloun Hamoud, a Palestinian born in Budapest who grew up in Israel. The three young women share an apartment in Tel Aviv and occupy themselves with love affairs, discotheques, studies and career ambitions.

Leila is a lawyer who prefers to be single rather than get engaged to a conservative guy. Salma is a lesbian DJ forced to reject the attempts of her (Christian) family to find her a husband. Noor, who comes from Umm al-Fahm, the Israeli conservative stronghold city of the Islamic Movement, is a student of computer science and a practicing Muslim, who is engaged to a fanatical fundamentalist who worries about the lifestyle of her new roommates. It’s nothing extraordinary, except that the three young women are Palestinians in Israel, and therefore they are forced to deal with the double discrimination of identity and sexism.

The film’s international title is In Between; in Italy, it’s Libere, disobeddienti, innamorate (Free, disobedient, in love). They are caught between two worlds: the traditional Muslim Arab culture and the Jewish Israeli culture. Bar Bahr, the original title, means in Arabic something like “between land and sea,” or in Hebrew “neither here nor anywhere” — a condition in which living a life according to one’s own desires becomes the most difficult battle.

The filmmaker explores this displacement through the quest for freedom of these three wonderful characters. This quest always ends up violently and unsparingly clashing against patriarchy, the “law” of men, fathers or boyfriends who are not able to accept “outside roles” for their sisters, wives, mothers. The director brings a familiar tension to a tale of Palestinian society — its producer is Shlomi Elkabetz, the brother of the late actress Ronit Elkabetz, with whom he wrote films depicting violence in Israel outside the dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Awarded at the Haifa International Film Festival, Hamoud’s film was attacked even before its screening. People described it as a work that glorified sexual freedom without morals. The residents of Umm al-Fahm issued a fatwa against the director for the simple fact she used the name of their city. Is it always so dangerous to talk about women? Hamoud, who grew up in a secular Muslim family, is very similar to the character of Leila.

“My parents are communists like me,” she said in an interview. She defines herself as “deeply feminist,” and her film started from here. “I grew tired of how girls my age are described, and then I wanted to give a voice to the Palestinian women in Israel. We never talk about the taboos they face, the effort they make to get rid of it.”

The film deals with this challenge with a decided attitude and doses of humor, irreverence and much love for her characters that never goes away. It follows their escape from everyday life, but it’s also a portrait of an Arab-Israeli generation, as well as that of a country and its brutality.

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