2017 proved to be a turning point in showcasing female narratives on the big screen. As we enter into the new year, it would appear that it was only the beginning of the shift. In Between, the feature-length debut from director Maysaloun Hamoud (who was the recipient of the Women in Motion Young Talents Award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival), is as tender as it is potent, shining a light on three determined Tel Aviv-based women, as well as the impassioned fighting spirit they all possess.
The story begins by laying out the prohibitory rules for women required within this strict religious culture, and then immediately juxtaposing them with how our heroines live out their lives: taking drugs from strangers in a crowded nightclub. Laila (Mouna Hawa) and Salma (Sana Jammelieh) – a sexually liberated criminal defense attorney and a closeted lesbian disc jockey, respectively – are tattooed, vulgar, and unwilling to deny themselves pleasure simply to uphold the status quo. This all comes as quite a shock to Noor (Shaden Kanboura), their new devout Muslim roommate who is constantly being chastised for her living arrangement (among other things) by her overbearing, abusive husband-to-be (Henry Andrawes).
All three women are weighted down by their own trials, but the issues they are facing are strikingly similar. Laila is romantically involved with a lawyer who isn’t nearly as progressively secular as he initially appears. Salma has found an idyllic love, but she must hide her away from ultra-conservative family bent on marrying her off. Nour is expected to be submissive to her domineering, pious brute of a fiancé, regardless of what atrocities he commits. As is suggested by the title, the protagonists of In Between are all trying to reconcile their individualistic desires while being tugged at by the oppressive societal expectations placed upon them.
Its conflict is familiar, but the film doesn’t settle for simple solutions. Right up to its opaque final image, In Between acknowledges that real-world resolutions are often messy. However, it is bound by a clear focus. Hamoud, with a film that is often unflinching and abrasive, makes no excuses for her blatant political motivations. While In Between never loses its light, understated touch, it remains meaty, keeping the audience on their toes with its unnerving, reactionary turns. If you’re looking for a breezy, popcorn flick, this might not be the movie for you. It doesn’t pull any punches when calling out the virulent patriarchal society that has claimed the independence of these women.
Aided by Itay Gross’s intimate cinematography, Hamoud brings a vibrant energy and an unshaken confidence to this tale that we rarely see from a first-time director. What’s so striking about her debut is the filmmaker’s vigorous optimism, even in the midst of turmoil. In Between chronicles the remnants of a dying mindset, seemingly making the argument that progressive ideals will always succeed, as long as there are open-minded warriors who are willing to fight for them. Let’s hope that Maysaloun Hamoud continues to be one of them.