Director Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between is a brilliantly observed, ballsy and rightfully unapologetic debut feature. The film follows three strong-minded Israeli-Palestinian young women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv, and delves into the lives they lead away from the constraints of their respective families. With a fantastic soundtrack peppered with Arab techno beats and some deeply moving middle-eastern sounds, the film is a sort of anomaly in a world usually dominated by male stories in a country and a section of Israeli society many still struggle to understand. Creating a beautifully atmospheric, and at times, dazzling world around the women, Hamoud does a commendable job in allowing her protagonists to own their lives and be proud of who they are despite the daily setbacks.
Enjoying the excesses of Tel Aviv’s uber-hip underground scene by night, and working as a ball-breaking lawyer by day, Leyla (Mouna Hawa) is determined to take charge of her own life no matter what other people think about her hedonistic lifestyle. Leyla shares a small apartment in the heart of the city with Salma (Sana Jammelieh), a lesbian DJ who is finding it increasingly difficult to hide her true nature from her conservative Christian family. While her mother is determined to find her a suitable husband from a good Christian family, Salma only has eyes for beautiful young doctor Dunya (Ahlam Canaan).
When Hijab wearing student Nour (Shaden Kanboura) arrives unannounced to occupy their spare room, Leyla and Salma are understandably puzzled by her and even more irritated by the frequent visits from her overbearing hypocritical finance Wissam (Henry Andrawes), whose fundamentalist views soon start to come between the girls. Meanwhile, between bouts of harmless flirting with a Jewish colleague, and wild nights of dancing and drug taking with her merry band of misfits, Leyla meets and instantly falls for filmmaker Ziad (Mahmoud Shalaby), who has just relocated from New York. Things come to a head for the girls after a truly shocking event shakes the trio to the core, leading Leyla and Salma to finally find some common ground with their more devout flatmate.
Hamoud has managed to construct a beautifully complex world around her protagonists, they are loud, sometimes reckless, and at other times beautifully supporting of each other. Mouna Hawa’s turn as the chain-smoking, no-nonsense taking Leyla is beyond impressive. Her ability to convey such strength and ballsy attitude is truly astounding.
On the whole, In Between manages to highlight the inimitable strength of Tel Aviv’s secular Arab women, warts and all. These women who have chosen to defy the men in their lives are more often than not ignored by a society which would prefer that they remained hidden. Hamoud’s women represent a section of Israeli Arab society that nobody is willing to admit exits – they smoke, they dance, they sing and they love harder than any man can. A genuinely enlightening piece of filmmaking which might prove to be as controversial as its brilliant director.
In Between is released on September 22nd.