Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Egypt/Netherlands/Occupied Palestinian Territory, 2021. H & A Productions, Cocoon Films, Doha Film Institute, Film-Clinic, KeyFilm, Lagoonie Film Production, MAD Solutions, Philistine Films. Screenplay by Hany Abu-Assad. Cinematography by Ehab Assal, Peter Flinckenberg. Produced by Hany Abu-Assad, Amira Diab, Maher Diab, Shahinaz el Akkad, Alaa Karkouti. Music by Jeffrey van Rossum. Film Editing by Eyas Salman.
An opening sequence worthy of Hitchcock sets you up for an exciting political thriller, its effortless brilliance almost a disadvantage to the rest of the movie that looks that much worse for not measuring up to its promise. Huda (Manal Awad) is a Bethlehem hairdresser who is doing Reem’s hair as they chat in a friendly and unassuming manner, then without warning the customer passes out in her chair. A secret door opens, Huda drags the unconscious Reem into a hidden bedroom, removes her clothing, and takes compromising photos of her with a male model. When Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi) wakes up, she is told that she needs to spy on her people for the Israeli Secret Service or Huda will expose the photos and shame her to her husband and community. Reem goes home devastated while Huda is quickly arrested by the Palestinian resistance, who hold her for interrogation and present her with evidence of all the women that she has blackmailed in a similar manner. As she answers questions about her involvement with the enemy, claiming that she was forced into working for them in much the same manner as the swindles she pulls on her victims, Reem stews over her situation and tries to find the best way out of it without letting her already too jealous husband find out the details. As with his earlier films about the conflict between two nations on one land, Omar and his masterpiece Paradise Now, director Hany Abu-Assad is interested in examining an explosive situation as more than just a case of good versus evil or oppressor and oppressed, looking more carefully at the psyche of a people who have been living in conflict for so long that there is as much warfare occurring in their minds as there is on the war-torn streets. A fascinating subject to tackle, but not one that is dramatically rewarding in this case, the lengthy head to head interrogation between Awad and Ali Suliman as her captor keeps things on a pretty small-talk basis, going through the bullet points of her biography without becoming thematically complicated enough to really achieve the feeling of great drama; Reem’s personal crisis is similarly one that holds on to one pressing matter and isn’t compounded by additional dramatic factors. The film is a slim experience but not a dull one, and the superb work by the actors helps it move very quickly and go down quite easily.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2021