Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

I may live in America but my heart may always lie in Tel Aviv.  It is probably my favorite city in all the world and a metropolis I called home for many months when I was a younger man.  It was a wonderful mixture of people including travelers like myself, Israelis, Arabs, and many different cultures.  Tel Aviv was always alive with a sprawling nightlife that only seemed to die down on Saturday mornings when the city would become a ghost town.  It was eerie, but it was perfect for skateboarding.

Bar Bahar (which is known in English as In Between, but I’m going to call Bar Bahar for the rest of this review) is a wonderful film about three Palestinian women who share an apartment in the heart of Tel Aviv.  The film starts off by introducing us to Laila (Mouna Hawa), Salma (Sana Jammelieh), and their friends.  Laila is a hard-charging partier who smokes like a chimney, drink like a fish, tokes the reefer, and snorts a line if you put it in front of her.  Salma wants to be a DJ and practices her skills at little bars (and at home) as she tries to become successful.

By day Laila is an attorney and Salma works in a restaurant.  Salma’s unwillingness to bend for assholes finds her quickly out on the street looking for a new job.  A new job she does find as a bartender and a new love interest as well in Dounia (Ashlam Canaan), a beautiful women who takes to Salma just as quickly.

The addition of Nour (Shaden Kanboura) to the apartment adds a slightly new dynamic.  While Laila and Salma are free spirits who have no problem drinking, hooking up, smoking weed, and having a good time every night, Nour is a university student and a conservative Muslim who wears a hijab.  She’s already engaged to Wissam (Henry Andrawas) who, after a few visits to the apartment, does not approve of Nour’s living conditions or her roommates.  He is very controlling but as we learn in watching Bar Bahar he is not the only man to act like this throughout the film.  It isn’t because he is a Muslim that he is controlling but more the nature of men in general.  But we do learn things about Wissam and the other men in this film that really piss me off about being a man.

Each of the three women in the film get their own arc and thusly each character feels fully formed.  We follow Laila as she meets a new guy and thinks everything is great until he starts to hate everything about her lifestyle.  We follow Salma as she finally finds a job she likes and a woman she adores until she goes to her parents who hate everything about her lifestyle.  Finally we follow Nour whose eyes may be opened for the first time living in this flat with these amazing women only to find that her fiancee hates everything about her roommates’ lifestyle.

Not only is the film’s acting phenomenal but the writing and directing of Maysaloun Hamoud’s first feature is extraordinary.  Hamoud breathes such life into these three women and allows them to grow on-screen.  You never feel bad for these women or their situations as we see that each character is quite strong alone and even stronger when they stand in solidarity.  It talks about how it doesn’t matter about your religion, as Jews, Arabs, and Christians are all represented here, but how you feel about living your own life the way you want to.

It’s an empowering film, one that doesn’t shy away from controversy, and a movie that makes you want to stand up and cheer for our three leads.  The fact that it all takes place in Tel Aviv is truly the icing on the cake for me.  Tel Aviv is just the backdrop.  The real magic here is Hamoud’s words, Hamoud’s direction, and the astounding acting of Hawa, Jammelieh, and Kanboura.  While the film came in 2016, it has only just been released in the United States thanks to Film Movement.  Thank God for that because Bar Bahar/In Between is a wonderful film that is worth seeking out.

RATING: A

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