The Reports On Sarah And Saleem

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Reports On Sarah And Saleem
"Muayad Alayan's beautifully observed, studiously discomfiting film has a lot to say about power and privilege."

"It was just sex," he says, and it sounds so trivial, a ridiculous reason for so much destruction. Was it just sex? Was there nothing else? In the end, whatever the two of them may have felt, the weight of other people's imagination is sufficient to do the damage. Because it's not just about the fact that they're married to other people - it's about the fact that she's Israeli and he's Palestinian.

In every part of the world, throughout history, where two communities have coexisted as uneasy neighbours or outright rivals, stories like these have emerged. Sometimes they're genuinely romantic - often they're romanticised by others. One person's love knowing no barriers is another's collaboration. With so much at stake, can the lovers really be confident of one another's feelings, or their own? We see them together only briefly, embracing in the back of a van, taking the kind of chances that people take every day when they feel overwhelmed by a passion that's hard to explain in rational terms. The way they hold each other, the unspoken sense of need, speaks to a humanity that political sense and social sensibility make every effort to deny.

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Muayad Alayan's beautifully observed, studiously discomfiting film has a lot to say about power and privilege. In daily life, Sarah (Sivane Kretchner) shifts uncomfortably within the space her army commander husband allows her to occupy, resenting his attempts to control her business interests and the casual disregard with which he is prepared to uproot her life - and her daughter's - to pursue a career opportunity in another city. Saleem (Adeeb Safadi), meanwhile, is struggling on a low income and feels ashamed of having to depend on his brother in law for work. He's also uncomfortable about the nature of some of that work, smuggling packages across the wall. His wife, Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhad) is expecting a baby. For Sarah and Saleem, their affair provides a welcome escape, but in an early scene, where he expresses a desire to take her out for a drink and she hesitates, we sense the tension that is present there too. Each has different things to lose. When they are placed under pressure, will the tenderness they've shared mean anything at all?

Focusing initially on this central relationship, the film sets out the brutality of the Israeli state as a backdrop. It may take a while for those with limited knowledge of it to appreciate just what Saleem being taken into custody means. As the story develops, however, with more and more coming out into the open, the focus shifts to Bisan, and it's her gradual process of empowerment, resisting the several layers of authority that have previously governed her life, that forms the heart of the film. Abd Elhad's performance is remarkable and plays a pivotal role in a landscape of gradually shifting sympathies.

Questions around responsibility and agency abound in a morally complex film where political tensions seep into everyday life in unexpected ways. Alayan's direction and Sebastian Bock's cinematography gradually open up and illuminate the spaces where events take place as secrets spill out and characters feel an increasing need for privacy. Watching the lovers together is familiar and comfortable; it's later, watching Sarah talking with her husband, seeing Bisan alone in her nursery, that the viewer is invited to feel like a voyeur. Sex may be a trivial thing but, like the desire to live a normal life or to live openly, its consequences here are not.

Reviewed on: 03 Nov 2018
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The Reports On Sarah And Saleem packshot
A man and a woman from two disparate worlds meet at nights just to have sex. However, when they get caught, the extra-marital relationship between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man causes tensions in the socio-politically divided Jerusalem.

Director: Muayad Alayan

Writer: Rami Musa Alayan

Starring: Maisa Abd Elhadi, Mohammad Eid, Kamel El Basha, Ishai Golan, Bashar Hassuneh, Hanan Hillo, Amer Khalil, Sivane Kretchner, Jan K├╝hne, Adeeb Safadi, Rebecca Esmeralda Telhami, Mohammad Titi, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Mohammad Eid, Kamel El Basha

Year: 2018

Runtime: 127 minutes

Country: Palestine, The Netherlands, Germany, Mexico


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