At first glance Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between has all the makings of an American sitcom, as three young Palestinian women from very different walks of life, end up sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv. But rather than sticking to convention, Hamoud’s insightful film achieves the right balance of drama and comedy as it explores what it’s like to be a woman in an oppressive society, not just in the Middle East, but all over the world. Anchored by the luminous performances of Mouna Hawa (the tough Leila), Sana Jammelieh (easygoing Salma), and Shaden Kanboura (the shy Noor) the film joins an incredible array of films about women done by women that have appeared in recent years, like Mustang and Girlhood. As the film premieres in the states we spoke to writer/director Hamoud about creating these unforgettable characters.
People compare the film to Sex and the City and Girls but the characters in the film probably don’t have those references, so was it important for you to create your own references for Palestinian women?
Yes, I’ve heard those comparisons. I think the stories and dilemmas in the movie are more realistic when it comes to representing women we’d never seen before, women like me, women of my generation in Palestine. Looking at the big picture in the film you find universal stories, there are characters like these all over the world, the characters face the same taboos many women experience.
When you went to film school in Tel Aviv were there any other female students who wanted to become directors? Or did the men ever talk about wanting to make films about women?
Let me tell you a story about myself. I came from a patriarchal society and even for me as an intuitive feminist, I started making short films but they were all told through the male eye. However the stories were feminist, so it’s interesting to me when I look back and realize I had to go through that process of understanding that we can be the male characters. Directors are usually male and the male characters are men. Now we’re seeing change, it’s not fast, but we can feel it all over. The industry is still ruled by men but just look at the past Emmy Awards, The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies, two series about women won the top prizes. We still have a long journey towards equality.
Thinking of a character like Leila who is so confident, tough and independent, did you ever see her as a woman who thought she needed to behave like a man to fit into this male dominated world?
I don’t think so. These gender definitions are passe, there are specific actions human beings do whether they’re men or women. Talking about Leila specifically you never see her family or where she’s from, I wanted to show that Leila is beyond that, she made her choices and has already gone through her liberating journey. She can’t go back, she paid the cost for her liberation. I wanted her to be by herself without conforming to a society she decided to be outside of. Noor and Salma are at different stages of their journey.
Noor goes through the most horrifying arc in the movie. People might be surprised to see her father taking her side which took me by surprise.
Yes, I like that you’re saying that because I want everyone who watches those scenes to ask: why? When you expect something to happen you have prejudices, reality is not exactly what you think. Human beings behave as human beings not images, the Israeli for instance may have thoughts about how Islamic and Christian people behave, but they’re not connected to reality.
Were you surprised at how people in your country reacted to the film?
Conservative societies need to protect themselves of the outside world that wants change. They will most likely resist to change. It’s a step of denial. When you want to change you have to make a reflection and start a dialogue with the other voices who are pointing out reality. Art can have a very powerful effect on the masses, it can change minds.
The film is so relevant in America…
All over the world!
...true, but especially nowadays in America were there is such xenophobia and prejudice towards Middle Eastern people.
Moonlight which won the Best Picture Oscar also showed a changing point of view in the kind of stories the world wants to see.
I love the title of the movie and the final shot which says so much and also sends us home with a lot to think about. Since we leave the characters in-between, will we see more of them in the future?
I can tell you this is the first part of a trilogy but, I hope you won’t be disappointed, the next chapter won’t be a continuous story or characters, instead a continuous theme. I’m already working on the second part, but I’m also doing a TV series so the film will happen after that. I can guarantee you that Leila will be in the second part, but not as you saw her in the movie.
In Between is now in theaters.