Do you think you have a good grasp of what life in Tel Aviv looks like nowadays? Bar Bahar might pleasantly surprise you. Stereotypes surrounding Israeli women for decades are unreservedly shattered and taboo subjects are openly discussed in Maysaloun Hamoud’s brash and buoyant 2016 motion picture. Screening at this year’s edition of the renowned Israeli film & TV festival, SERET International, In Between (Bar Bahar) will confuse you, entertain you, shock you with its honesty and put you face to face with your own subtle prejudice or misconceptions about life for the women of Israel.
Stylish and seductive lawyer, Leila Bakhr (Mouna Hawa), is not an adept of the typical, traditional female role. She is financially independent, sexually uninhibited and a party animal when she is not practicing criminal law. Understandably, she does not see eye-to-eye with her family and prefers to remain distanced from them, she is seeking fun and sexual experimentation more than commitment in relationships and wants (but is not able to find) a man who will be supportive of her autonomous nature. Although she is having a romantic affair with the handsome filmmaker Ziad Hamdi (Mahmud Shalaby), Leila soon discovers her partner is not as understanding and open-minded as he pretends to be. On the other hand, Salma (Sana Jammelieh), is an aspiring DJ who spends her nights drinking, partying and dabbling in drugs. The woman is a lesbian who finds that a more compliant and quiet attitude is more protective of her lifestyle. Being part of a rigorous Christian family, she tells her loved ones that she is a shy, hard-working music teacher to avoid clashing with their conservative values. However, the cost of this is that every family dinner is filled with awkwardness and disappointment when her relatives keep inviting suitors over for her. When a hijabi graduate student named Noor (Shaden Kanboura) makes her way from a secluded village to the big city and into the girls’ apartment, an adorable, heartening sisterhood forms between the three Israeli women.
What is unique about Hamoud’s feature film is its refreshing approach to the obsolete trope of female friends sharing the fun, raunchy adventures and draining struggles of living in a big city. Reminiscent of typical American comedy-drama television, In Between (Bar Bahar) adds an invigorating, transformative touch to an otherwise trite genre and creates a bright, empowering atmosphere spiked with just the right amount of exhibitionism. The film offers a unique and bittersweet depiction of the ups and downs of relationships, independence and life “in between” traditionalism and the modern paradigm.
The women are portrayed as genuine forces of nature in their surroundings, constantly prepared to take on the world with their head held up high. Their relentless commitment to remaining true to themselves is both endearing and inspiring to witness, as the heroines navigate their social circle with pride, self-respect and enduring principles. The three leads each offer stellar performances on their own, but also bring forth a gracefully enticing chemistry as one of the most sympathetic and fun-to-watch power trios in queer cinema history. This nimbly, seductively crisp cast overshadows any inconsistencies or shortcomings the movie might have, and opens up discussion on what life looks like for independent, strong women of Tel Aviv. There is no doubt that the film’s Sex and the City-esque vibe struck a chord in audiences all over the world, forcing them to face their own bias and misunderstandings regarding what it means to be a woman in a religiously conservative and all-around rigid society.
Of course, In Between (Bar Bahar) does not merely glance over serious social or cultural issues and it has persistent feminist undertones all throughout, but it employs them in a much more biting and resourceful manner than American television could ever recreate. There are several troubling scenes, dark moments and downright heartbreaking life lessons that each of the characters go through. But Hamoud does not let his debut film get dragged down by the weight of heavy subjects for too long. Ultimately, In Between (Bar Bahar) successfully brings awareness to important social issues, but astutely keeps its center as a lighthearted, down-to-earth motion picture about friendship, self-acceptance and living in the moment.