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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » In Between (aka Bar Bahar)
In Between (aka Bar Bahar)
Film Movement // Unrated // May 1, 2018
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 29, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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When it comes to art that is ostensibly creative or unique, the films that land at a crossroads between culture and cliche are the most complicated to assess. As the old Ebert quote goes, it's not what a film is about, but how the movie is about that subject, but even films that offer a unique cultural perspective or artistic voice, can end up weighed down by the how of familiar story beats or plot devices. In Between is one of those films: a striking feminist statement that no doubt stands out among the films currently being made in Palestine, about Palestinian women, but which also feels somewhat uninspired in terms of the characters and story that debut writer/director Maysaloun Hamoud uses to put that statement onto the screen.

Salma (Sana Jammalieh) and Laila (Mouna Hawa) are two young Palestinian women who don't fit traditional cultural expectations. Salma is a lesbian DJ who keeps up the charade of wanting a husband and traditional family with her parents (Khawla Haj-Desby and Eyad Sheety), while Laila spends her days wearing pantsuits and dress shirts an uncompromising lawyer, and nights smoking weed and partying until dawn. Salma's mother arranges for Salma's cousin Nour (Shaden Kanboura) to become their third roommate while Nour studies computer science at a nearby college. Nour is a traditional Muslim, but also smart enough to recognize that Salma and Laila's lifestyles are not quite as sinful as some other Muslims would believe. Hamoud's film traces a loose journey through all three women's individual threads, which include Salma's parents learning about her sexuality and new girlfriend Dounia (Ashlam Canaan), Laila battling an unexpectedly conservative boyfriend (Mahmud Shalaby), and Nour discovering that her traditional fiance Wissam (Henry Andrawes) is a monster.

When it comes to depicting oppression, misogyny, and rape on screen, there are two schools of thought. The first is that looking directly at the crime is the most effective way to convey its cruelty, and the other is that allusion and suggestion will be enough to explore the effects of the act without "glamorizing" sexual violence (or forcing members of the audience to relive their own experiences). There is no objective truth as to which of these two is better, but it seems fair to say that there are more movies that do the former, and In Between is no exception. While the box copy only alludes to it, it would be hard to discuss the film without stating that Wissam rapes Nour when she refuses to move to a different apartment, away from the young women he regards as evil. While Hamoud's depiction of the event makes some interesting choices, such as the haunting banality with which Wissam silently gets up and leaves, seen only from the waist down as he exits frame, the more emotionally affecting scene comes afterward, when Salma and Laila return home and help her without discussion, lifting Nour so she can shower while she weeps.

While there is evidence to suggest that part of Hamoud's point is that the three women's worlds keep turning despite a life-changing event like this, there is the sense that the film needs a stronger clarity of vision as a whole to pull off the ambivalent atmosphere of the film. Small moments of the trio bonding before the crime are sweet but not deeply endearing, and there is a dramatic shakiness to the scenes that come afterward. It is only a couple of scenes later that Salma and Dounia are confronted about their relationship and Salma's parents, especially her father, become livid. There is, of course, plenty of truth to his bigotry and bitterness, but Salma's solution to it is simply to leave, without any further reckoning between herself and her family, which makes it feel as if we've watched it unfold without a reason for it to happen within the structure of the film. Given the things that Nour and Salma are going through, Laila's then feels somewhat inconsequential by contrast, even if her frustration at the war of attrition, in which everyone compromises a little and nothing ever changes, is very real.

It is reasonable to suggest that Hamoud has made a film for Palestinians, and that the film's distribution around the globe is less important than what it means for the people who are reflected in the work, whether that be women, women of Palestine, or both. At the same time, there is the feeling that Hamoud has a particularly vivid mood or subculture that she wants to evoke with In Between, and the area where the film falters has less to do with what she wants and more to do with the tools that she's used to bring that idea to life. In Between is a good movie, a movie with a voice that shines through in fits and starts, but its title is more appropriate than Hamoud might have intended.

In Between arrives on DVD with artwork featuring the three leads together. Simple, and having seen the film, perhaps a little easy, but it's fine. As is the norm with Film Movement releases, the one-disc set comes in a transparent Amaray case allowing notes from the company and the director printed on the reverse of the sleeve to show through inside the case, and there is a booklet advertising other Film Movement releases.

The Video and Audio
In Between's 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack are both slightly mixed bags that lean largely positive. The "neon lights"-style credits look quite terrible for some reason, with obvious blockiness and color bleed, but the film itself looks much better, offering a reasonable amount of clarity and fine detail most of the time. Here and there, a shot will look a bit mushy or ill-defined, but these moments are fleeting and not consistent throughout the presentation. Sound ends up playing a notable role in the film when it comes to the various and wide-ranging types of environments the film takes place in, helping to accentuate the vibrant party life and the quiet intensity of more intimate scenes. Dialogue sounds fine, although some mild echo and other source-based distortion does creep in (this being a low-budget movie). English subtitles are, of course, provided, as is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, and French subtitles.

The Extras
In Between is another of the films that Film Movement has included some specific extras for. In this case, that means a pretty great behind-the-scenes featurette (27:44). What this peek into the production lacks in structure and focus it more than makes up for in content, featuring lots of interviews and B-roll spotlighting director Maysaloun Hamoud, whose energy and excitement are truly infectious. Much is made of the creative partnership beween Hamoud and her producer and former mentor, Shlomi Elkabetz, who talks at length about his need to let the lessons he learned on films he wrote or generated himself grow and develop, and that producing Hamoud's work was crucial to that. There is also a fantastic montage where the featurette spotlights the diverse professional non-film backgrounds of many of the film's cast and crew, which Hamoud selected and collectively groups, herself included, into the third generation of Palestinian film. Some trimming would've been nice, but this is an unexpectedly engaging little documentary.

The other extra, Film Movement's traditional short film, is also related to In Between, in that it is another film by Hamoud. Scent of the Morning (8:17) (or Sense of Morning, per the on-screen titles), is a short about a man ruminating on his memories of coffee as bombs fall on Beirut in 1982. It's a good concept, although the man's internal monologue feels overwrought, overly poetic, and at least partially unnecessary in the face of Hamoud's visuals.

Trailers for In Syria, My Art, and Moka, plus a promo for Film Movement play before the main menu. These three trailers, plus three additional trailers for Antonia's Line, Blush, and The Chambermaid Lynn are available on the special features menu under "Film Movement Trailers." An original theatrical trailer for In Between is also included.

In Between has a striking cultural backdrop and sharp commentary on that environment and the pressures within it. At the same time, the way it articulates those things feels familiar and a bit disorganized. Maysaloun Hamoud, as a first-time feature director, is someone to watch, but there is certainly room for improvement. Rent it.

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