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Palestinian female roommate tale ‘In Between’ a timely charmer

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From left, Sana Jammelieh, Shaden Kanboura and Mouna Hawa play Palestinian roommates living in Israel. (Courtesy Film Movement)

In Between” features three Palestinian Israeli women who insist on a life of independence in a patriarchal culture where female defiance can have severe consequences. Both addressing oppressive and abusive male behavior and embracing female friendship and solidarity, the film proves captivating as well as timely.

Mixing realism with more formulaic storytelling, first-time feature filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud sets her dramedy in liberal Tel Aviv and focuses on three Palestinian roommates. All are young women who break social or religious rules in their determination to live the way they choose.

Overtly rebellious Laila (Mouna Hawa) is a lawyer who smokes, drinks and parties hard.

Tattooed Salma (Sana Jammelieh) is a fellow hedonist and a deejay and bartender.

The initially incompatible Nour (Shaden Kanboura) is a computer-science student and a devout Muslim who feels uncomfortable around, but also intrigued by, her secular roommates.

Hamoud’s conventionally constructed story follows each woman through a personal challenge.

Laila (Mahmoud Shalaby) realizes that her seemingly enlightened boyfriend, Ziad (Mahmoud Shalaby), isn’t as accepting of her independence as she’s believed.

Salma, accompanied by her new girlfriend, visits her conservative Christian parents, who are enraged to discover  she’s a lesbian.

Nour plans to marry Wissam (Henry Andrawes), a traditional Muslim who views her roommates as “whores” and is pressuring her to leave Tel Aviv and move their wedding date forward. When she refuses, he reacts monstrously, and the film hits hard.

As the women march to their own heartbeats, and as Nour slowly bonds with Laila and Salma, Hamoud presents some scenarios contrivedly and too broadly. A revenge plot, carried out against the top male villain, lacks credibility.

But largely, Hamoud winningly combines zest and cynicism and comes up with a dramatically solid, quietly political, and immensely likable movie about the struggles and triumphs of independent Arab women and the experiences of Arabs living in predominantly Jewish Israel.

An Israeli saleswoman eyes Laila and Salma suspiciously at one point. In a sparkling scene, Laila flirts with a Jewish colleague but refuses to date him, convinced that his family would reject her.

Hamoud doesn’t depict all the men as rotten. (Expect a wonderful surprise.)

Nicely acted by all three leads, the film foremost excels as a story of friendship among three women who, while not seemingly political, are, by virtue of their choices, compelling voices for change.

Hamoud displays a gift for creating affecting intimate moments; Nour gently helping Laila fix her headscarf properly when Laila needs to dress traditionally for a meeting, for example.

The final shot, a rooftop scene in which all three women, beers in hand, take comfort in the knowledge that, however difficult their challenges, they have each other, makes for exquisite closure.

In Between
Rating: three stars
Starring: Mouna Hawa, Sana Jammelieh, Shaden Kanboura and Mahmoud Shalaby
Written and directed by: Maysaloun Hamoud
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 43 Minutes

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