Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
It is amazing what people can get used to. In Australian Sherine Salama’s intimate documentary portrait of Palestinian family life in the West Bank town of Ramallah, the keen, forthright nature of her subjects can distract you from the fact that they live in a state of continual depletion. For a start there is the absence of men. Throwing rocks at ‘Jews’ has made prisoners and exiles of the alpha males in this story. Mariam, a traditional village girl and the film’s sharp-witted central ‘character’ is introduced to Bassam, who has returned from exile in America to find a ‘home-made’ bride. Soon after their lavish wedding a new intifada breaks out and Miriam is stuck, along with a similarly stranded sister-in-law, at their mother-in-law’s house in the middle of a war zone. A trip through Israeli roadblocks to the US consulate to progress her visa application may fit the stock view of war’s tribulations, but once back home things are strangely normal: the women bicker, gripe, gossip and cook while buildings only blocks away are shelled.
Risking Mariam’s jealousy Salama also visits the US to observe the life Bassam has carved out repairing phones in Cleveland. It’s an existence that might have Mariam pining for her mother-in-law’s truculent glare and the sound of shellfire. Utterly involving, Salama’s film foregrounds a slyly feminist view of life under occupation – methodically disempowered men can make methodically lousy husbands – while keeping a sympathetic eye out for the ploys with which pride can withstand the most outrageous indignity. — BG
I first met Bassam in Heliopolis, Ramallah’s bustling bridal emporium. I was hoping to make a film that told the story of a wedding, a story that reflected the richness of Palestinian traditions and the warmth of family life. I also wanted to capture the crazy attempts of people to lead a normal life in the middle of great political turmoil – but at the time there was surprisingly little turmoil to be found. Ramallah was a relaxed city, filled with Palestinian-Americans complaining about the traffic, the heat, and the high prices. Bassam had come to Heliopolis with his family to choose a dress for Mariam, the painfully shy bride-to-be. He invited me to film the preparations for his wedding. I had no idea I would be filming the last summer of peace in the Palestinian territories. — Sherine Salama