Palestinian-Israeli director Maysaloun Hamoud’s first feature-length film, In Between, shows how the political becomes personal, how cycles of abuse and intolerance can knock a life off its axis. But in doing so, it loses sight of the details and detours that could have made that point resonate.
The film follows three Palestinian women who, like so many people in their 20s, veer wildly between moments of clarity and disarray. They have the added challenge of living in a fractious political climate under a social regime that exerts a constant pressure on them. Laila (Mouna Hawa) is a lawyer who falls into a passionate but tumultuous relationship. She lives with Salma (Sana Jammelieh), a lesbian DJ whose parents set her up on dates with an unimpressive cast of potential husbands. Their third roommate’s cousin, Nour (Shaden Kanboura), is an engineering student who moves in with them due to construction at her university, and whose fiancé urges her to abandon her studies and become a housewife.
Laila and Salma look for comfort and stimulation in friends, drugs, alcohol, and music. Nour seeks meaning in her professional ambitions and prospective family. Their relationship goes as you might expect. At first, Laila and Salma find Nour boring, while Nour thinks that her new roommates are crass and irresponsible. But for all their outward differences, it becomes clear that they’re looking for the same things—meaning, companionship, stability—in different ways. Once they recognize their fundamental similarities, they warm to each other and work toward friendship, and the film periodically frees them from simple contrasts and expository dialogue.
One of these moments comes during a date between Salma and Dunia (Ahlam Canaan), a customer Salma meets at her bartending job. Over coffee and cigarettes, the two are giddy and a little nervous, unsure of what to do with their budding affection. But their chemistry is obvious and has nothing to do with what they say; it’s all in their eyes and expressions. The scene is brief, but it builds intimacy without feeling the need to underline it.
In Between is most affecting when its characters are at their least guarded, but as Nour, Salma, and Laila are hurt by those closest to them, Hamoud’s film pulls back toward more formulaic expressions of conflict. Part of this shift comes from an intention to address the real and devastating ways that people abuse the trust of their loved ones without pulling punches, and part of it is a young filmmaker still working out a way to make her dialogue and aesthetics match the urgency of her subject matter. There are flashes of an emerging style in the vibrant colors of Nour, Salma, and Laila’s apartment and the hyperactive electronic dance music that occasionally fills the soundtrack, but they never gather into a distinct mode of expression.
The film, then, can’t bridge the distance between the tragic circumstances its characters face and the rigid, somewhat didactic ways they’re depicted. While politics and certain kinds of media try to simplify human conflict, art can work against that impulse, making one aware of the specificities of people’s experiences. In Between does a little bit of both but ultimately chooses order and clarity over ambiguity and implication. During its final moments, Salma, Laila, and Nour sit together silently. Each finds herself at a crossroads, a chance for the film to explore the thrill and terror of their uncertain futures. Instead, it ends abruptly, unsure of what to do without a conflict to explain.