Sign up for the Film Comment Letter today to get original film writing delivered to your inbox every week! >>

Short Take: In Between

(Maysaloun Hamoud, Israel/France, Film Movement, Opening January 5)

Early in Maysaloun Hamoud’s debut feature, outspoken lawyer Salma (Sana Jammelieh) and erratically employed Leila (Mouna Hawa) stiffly welcome a third roommate into their Tel Aviv apartment: a hijab-wearing university student named Noor (Shaden Kanboura). The stage appears set for a standoff between self-consciously emancipated and more “traditional” Arab women. Indeed, the wavering relations of long-standing regional customs to modern, more Westernized attitudes is the “in between” designated by Hamoud’s title. Refreshingly, though, she doesn’t need to pit women against each other to explore these issues of gender and culture.

Instead, the primary conflicts arise via the women’s sexual and romantic partners: a bullying patriarch, a new-in-town lesbian, and a liberal Palestinian man less comfortable with female autonomy than he pretends. Visually and narratively, In Between makes some surprising choices in relation to this latter character; Hamoud films one of his rapprochements with the increasingly skeptical Salma in a dim underground carpark, as if this man could at any moment become the assailant in a horror film. Conversely, when a rape transpires inside another subplot, neither the shot nor the start of the scene has telegraphed that possibility, which makes the violence all the more shocking.

In Between’s script and cinematic technique leave room for Hamoud to grow in her second feature, but her clear feminist messaging and subtle departures from expectation already merit respect.