Bar Bahar – Everything but In Between

In a recent interview in the Spanish press, Maysaloun Hamoud sighs with exasperation – “Why would anybody think the characters, who are out partying and having a good time, are trying to escape -just because they drink and take drugs”. She protests. “The protagonists are young, that’s life, life in Tel Aviv.” Unsurprisingly, the young Palestinian director cannot be accused of being anywhere in between in terms of the perspective she delivers in her latest film and feature debut ‘Bar Bahar’ (translated from the Arabic means In Between).

The film, penned and directed by Hamoud, tells the story of three young Palestinian women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv, each in their own way, caught in between the lives of relevant others who have, in one way or another, acquiesced to prevailing social norms. None of three protagonists, however, appear willing to settle for the terms on offer. Bolstered by mutual friendship, each woman is destined to a path in which she fights against the taboos surrounding her in search of identity, freedom and a personally defined destiny. But this film is much more than personal stories about ‘out with the old and in with the new’.

The journeys Hamoud delivers are infused with urgency and impatience, even an excitement reminiscent of the energy and hope that surrounded the Arab Spring uprisings. Although not fundamentally political, the film is imbued with the energy of that new political dawn. To some extent the protagonists are emblematic of what youth across the Arab world view as the ‘unfinished business’ of the Arab Spring and the continuing hope for openness and democratic evolution in the Middle East. The fact that some of the characters are portrayed as living with excessive behaviour, or subjected to extreme events, is somehow reflective of the chaos, excitement and youthful hunger that is often associated revolutionary times as well as the troubles that inevitably follow.

The story, which revolves almost exclusively around Palestinians in Israel, Christian, Muslim and other, and in the Arab Language, (except for a short punchy interlude in a Hebrew restaurant), is funded by the Israeli Film Council. It is a testament to the Council that it has not been constrained by local politics from funding a work that delves so uncompromisingly into the complexities and social difficulties faced by Palestinians both within their own communities and in relation to the dominant culture in Israel. Though each of the three main characters carries a personal story, each equally constitutes a sort of representative banner of Palestinian Christian, Muslim and Secular identity intermingled with which are the respective elements in their lives, criss-crossing other social and cultural frontiers, e.g. adhering (or not) to cultural practices around marriage (including interfaith unions), sexual identity, intellectual feminism, power, race and emigration. Perhaps one of the interesting features of the film, which is released at a time when Israel is being pilloried internationally in relation to its settlement policies, is that the only direct addressing of the discomfort of Palestinians in Israel is that Haifa is “much more relaxed” that Tel Aviv. It is as though Hamoud wants us to step beyond the obvious and move closer to the every-day human concerns, which make up the preoccupations of most of her community and generation. This she manages to do with subtle efficiency, at the same time without ignoring or underplaying the bigger political issues. Not an easy task. As her French co-producers might say – Chapeau!

Despite the weighty dilemmas, subject matters and the simmering turbulences beneath them, Hamoud delivers an utterly compelling film, at once, delicious, warm, uplifting, heart-wrenching, angry and constrained but, ultimately, liberating and, above all else, infused with hope. It has echoes of other cult classics, anything from “Trainspotting” to “Thelma and Louise” but without repeating clichés. Bar Bahar remains an entirely new buddy film, worthy of the many awards it is currently accumulating, including three at the San Sebastian Film Festival. It opens a delightfully fresh window on a community and a region about which many of us west of the port of Jaffa have limited genuine exposure.

There is little doubt we will be seeing more of Hammoud, who has launched herself boldly and solidly with this mature and memorable feature debut. Somewhat reflective of the complexities of the issues she tackles, Hamoud also had some difficulty in recruiting an ensemble cast willing to take the journey with her into a sort of exasperated social commentary which many considered a bit too risqué.

Nonetheless, her patience and determination won through. The result is that her principle characters are by a terrific cast of relatively unknowns and the film is all the more rich for it. Newcomer, Shaden Kanboura, who plays the central character, Nour. If Kanboura sticks to the profession then, in between the three main players, we might just be looking at the birth of a star. She has certainly chosen the right vehicle to advance that prospect. Bar Bahar (2016) directed by Maysaloun Hammoud and starring Mouna Hawa, Sana Jammelieh and Shaden Kanboura is on international release and is currently screening at the Pam Springs Film Festival in California.

Originally from Achill Island, off the west coast of Ireland, Colm works as a consultant human rights lawyer specialising in democratisation support. He has worked extensively across Africa, which experiences inform his reflections in poetry and writing. Although writing poetry for over thirty years, he only started to air his endeavours in 2014 with a first self-published collection entitled “Journeys Inward and Out”. Several of his poems have been published by US literary journal Page and Spine. Colm also writes film scripts and children’s stories, while he also recently completed two illustrated books, the first of which, “Galicia to Glora” was published by Libros (Spain) in 2015. Colm is also a self-taught painter, motion graphics and digital matte painting artist. He has exhibited art work on numerous occasions in Ireland and twice in Madrid, Spain. His artwork has appeared in Bohemia Magazine in the USA. Colm has been based in Madrid since 2012, from where he also tries to find time to maintain his germinal websites and