Starring Mouna Hawa. In Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles. Rated 18A
In her debut feature, Hungarian-born writer-director Maysaloun Hamoud tells the stories of three very different Israeli-Arab women, pushed together by circumstances in modern Tel Aviv. Leading this trio of 20-somethings is Leila (Mouna Hawa), a sleek, if huge-haired, attorney who moves easily from Arabic to Hebrew, and just as comfortably between men of different backgrounds. Flatmate Salma (Sana Jammelieh) is even more outré; she’s gay and frequently stoned, but most promiscuous with jobs that don’t matter much—all of which annoys her Christian parents, blindly picking out husbands for her.
Things are upended when these two get a new roomie: observantly Islamic Nour (Shaden Kanboura), a plump, fully covered student in town temporarily for an IT course. She’s initially put off by their urban ways—the colourfully shot movie parties to an electro beat—and they think she’s an uptight bumpkin. They soon find common ground, though. It’s clear that Nour’s not into her fiancé (Henry Andrawes), this supposedly pious community worker who disdains all things modern. Meanwhile, Leila appears to have found a proper soulmate in Ziad (Mahmud Shalaby), a hunky filmmaker back from studying in New York.
The actors are excellent, and the film does a good job of setting up these nebulous situations. It earns instant respect by conveying a range of Palestinian personalities unburdened by the usual politics and poverty. There is some mild minority-snubbing here, by random Tel Avivans, but most of the conflicts are internal, subcultural, and gender-based. And this is exactly where Hamoud’s finely drawn portrait gets sketchy.
When Nour’s already arrogant boyfriend turns brutal, the women band together for revenge, but the payoff is unsatisfying. Ziad turns out to be less progressive than expected, but his arguments with Leila feel forced and are poorly written. And would Salma really bring her brand-new girlfriend (Ashlam Canaan) to meet her deeply conservative parents, without warning, the same night they invited a prospective spouse and his family to dinner?
These plot turns seem designed to hammer home points, not make the characters richer or more complex. The frequently disjointed editing doesn’t help, nor does the fact that the main characters smoke cigarettes through every scene without noticing (or without the director noticing) that this may be part of their basic unease. These ’tweeners are still well worth meeting. They should maybe just stay single for a while longer.