When I saw In Between last winter, I was at first stunned and then quickly thrilled. Stunned in that I’d never seen Arab women portrayed in film this way (drinking! smoking!) and thrilled to be seeing Arab women in all their exquisite complexity. The three characters at the heart of this story are fierce, nonconformist, and caught between self-actualization and a strong patriarchal tradition. If this weren’t enough, they also face the challenge of being Palestinian in Israel.
In Between is writer/director Maysaloun Hamoud’s feature debut. Her characterization, camera-work, and scoring, along with the nuanced performances she elicits are self-assured. It stands proudly alongside Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s equally assured debut, Caramel.
The film follows roommates Layla, a criminal defense attorney from a secular Muslim family, and Salma, a lesbian DJ from a Christian family, from the day when Nour, their new roommate moves in. Nour is a devout Muslim come to Tel Aviv to study Computer Science. She’s engaged to a fiancé that does not like her living with these free-spirited women.
Hamoud uses intimate camera work to reveal the complex dynamic that evolves between these women, their loves, and their families. From the first scene I was swept along on a surge of energy as they attempt to live on their own terms. But even within the empowering moments from the first half of the film (Salma quitting her job to focus on DJ’ing, career-focused Layla finding tenderness in a relationship, Nour being intrigued by an alternative way to live) there is darkness looming. We quickly see freedom is not free. The second half of the film took me to a much darker place as I experienced what these women risk when they reject their traditions. They become outcasts in their cultures and families in part because they are given no choice. It’s one or the other.
As in life, the film provides no easy answers and ends on a note of uncertainty about these women’s futures. But if there’s one thing I’m completely certain about—with directors like Hamoud at the helm making a crucial piece of 21st century cinema in her first feature, the future will be thrilling indeed.