Between Heaven And Earth

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Between Heaven And Earth
"Najjar has essentially crafted two films here, both of which carry plenty of interest but they are locked in an unhappy marriage which means neither can realise their full potential."

Najwa Najjar charts an uneven course in her latest film as a road trip takes a couple on a journey into their families' past, as her attempts to underpin her relationship drama with a history lesson become confusing in the end.

Even before they set foot in the elderly car they will use to make the trip, it seems the relationship between Palestinians Salma (Mouna Hawa) and Tamer (Firas Nassar) may well have reached the end of the road. After five years of marriage, Salma wants a divorce and the pair are heading from the West Bank to Israel to complete the paperwork. The power play between the two is indicated economically by Tamer's insistence that he drives the car, even though he knows he will have to give the keys to Salma at the checkpoint as she is the only one authorised to drive a car with Israeli plates.

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The interplay between these two, bolstered by the lead performances, is the strongest element of a screenplay, which will soon become so mired in its historical themes that it forgets to carry the rest of the story with it. Mystery begins to bloom when the couple arrive at the divorce office only to be told that Tamer has missing paperwork - just one of several well-observed moments that highlight the overbearing absurdity of Israeli bureaucracy and attitudes towards Palestinians. Although his father is dead, the address on file isn't the one Tamer suggests, but rather a home that he shared with a Jewish wife named Hagar and his son Tamir.

This is the point where things start to become unwieldy, as Tamer and Salma, first heading to the address to speak to Tamir, begin to try to peel back the layers of truth regarding Tamer's father and the complicated set of relationships that also involve Tamer's mother and Hagar. Along the way, they'll also spend time with Salma's parents who, like Tamer's dad, were high profile political activists in their youth, while a repeated flashback suggests a memory from childhood that Tamer is struggling to make sense of. While the cryptic nature of Tamer's family history is intriguing to begin with, it soon becomes over-complicated as Najjar struggles to balance the elements of the unfolding mystery with the here and now complexity of Salma and Tamer's relationship.

The problem largely lies in emphasis. It's clear that Najjar feels very strongly about the political themes she wants to bring to the fore - including real-life historical scandal and disenfranchisement - and this makes it feel as though she's going through the motions in terms of what she earlier suggested would be the main hook of the plot, namely the marriage. The sense of the perfunctory isn't helped by the deliberately off-beat characters Salma and Tamer meet along the way, with forced humour emerging from a French couple and forced sentimentality from a Sufi musician. Najjar has essentially crafted two films here, both of which carry plenty of interest but they are locked in an unhappy marriage which means neither can realise their full potential.

Reviewed on: 29 Apr 2021
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When a couple try to get a divorce, they find themselves on a road trip into the past.

Director: Najwa Najjar

Writer: Najwa Najjar

Starring: Mouna Hawa, Firas Nassar, Lamis Ammar, Sari Bisharat, Donna Hawa, Louise Heem, Faris Husari, Houda Imam

Year: 2019

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Palestine, Iceland, Luxembourg

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