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Review: Arab Israeli filmmaker gives voice to young women in debut drama ‘In Between’

Mouna Hawa, left, Sana Jammelieh and Shaden Kanboura in the movie "In Between."
(Film Movement)

The first words uttered in “In Between,” the assured feature debut of Arab Israeli filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud, are words of advice: If you want to make your husband happy, an older woman tells a bride, “don’t raise your voice.” For the trio of young women at the center of this sharp, wise and vibrant ode to female independence, those are words to resist, not live by.

They’re twentysomethings who came from the provinces to the big city — a setup as universal and time-tested as storytelling itself. But in this case the city is complex, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv and the women are Palestinian. On top of the family expectations and Old World traditions they’re breaking away from, they’re confronted with the day-to-day realities of their minority status; one woman is admonished at her restaurant job for “upsetting” the customers by speaking Arabic.

With the outstanding contributions of cinematographer Itay Gross and composer M.G. Saad, Hamoud brings the city’s youthful grit and vitality into focus, as well as the specific in-between that her characters occupy. The writer-director has a keen ear for natural dialogue, lent unpredictability and dimension by the lived-in performances of her three dazzling leads.

As hard-partying, chain-smoking attorney Lalia, Mouna Hawa is unstoppable, suffering no fool in her orbit gladly, whether he’s a grabby stranger or a flirty colleague. Her roommate Salma (Sana Jammelieh), a DJ, hasn’t told her Christian parents that she’s a lesbian, and continues to play along, grudgingly and comically, with their endless matchmaking efforts. During an especially hungover morning for the roomies, their new housemate arrives: jilbab-clad college student Nour (Shaden Kanboura), whose open-mindedness will soon expose irreconcilable differences with her humorlessly pious fiancé (Henry Andrawes).

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There’s no shortage of self-satisfied men in this tale of awakening, and hypocrisy of the most brutal, patriarchal sort meets its comeuppance. But however pointed the drama’s lessons, they’re never simplistic and always involving, pulsing with compassion and urgency as Hamoud’s vivid characters defy the rules. Each, in her own way, raises her voice.

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‘In Between’

In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Playing: Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills

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