In 'This Sea,' Salt Of Conflict Is Strong On The Tongue

Suheir Hammad, Saleh Bakri

hide captionHome Sweet Home? In Salt of This Sea, a Palestinian-American woman (Suheir Hammad, left, with Saleh Bakri) returns to her father's homeland looking for connections — only to be taken aback by what she finds.

Lorber Films

Salt Of This Sea

  • Director: Annemarie Jacir
  • Genre: Foreign, Drama, Romance
  • Running Time: 109 minutes
Unrated. Strong language, some sexual content.

With: Suheir Hammad, Saleh Bakri, Riyad Ideis

In Arabic with English subtitles.

Soraya is a woman in trouble, from the very start of Salt of This Sea. A Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American, she arrives in the land of her ancestors and is immediately subjected to distrust, interrogation and an invasive search. She may carry a U.S. passport, but with her Arabic last name, her Lebanon-born parents and her stated intention to stay with a friend in Ramallah, she's Palestinian to the Israeli officials at the airport questioning her — "for your own security" — and she's a potential threat. Her defiant attitude during the process does her no favors.

This is a pattern that's repeated throughout the film: Soraya (played by Suheir Hammad) feels rage at the injustices she witnesses and experiences, but makes things more difficult through an inability to contain her passions or choose her battles.

So she argues with airport security. She argues with the bank where her grandfather had an account before the Israeli occupation, when they tell her the relatively small amount of money he left in there has been gone for decades. She argues with Emad (Saleh Bakri) and Marwan (Riyad Ideis), the new friends who are, much to her consternation, just as eager (and unable) to leave their homeland as she is to stay there.

In a fit of supreme frustration, she convinces them to help her rob the bank for the 315 Palestinian pounds owed to her as her grandfather's heir, plus more than 60 years' interest. When the clumsily orchestrated heist is over, they go on the run to Tel Aviv, so that she might see her grandfather's old house. It comes as no surprise when she picks a fight with the kind and sympathetic young Israeli who now owns it.

Writer/director Annemarie Jacir, in her first feature film, is determined to make important statements through her protagonist, which is what makes Soraya so uncompromising. Unfortunately, it also makes her less of a character; she often seems little more than a mouthpiece for history lessons on the injustices perpetrated on the Palestinian people.

Suheir Hammad i i

hide captionClose To Home: Like the character she plays in Salt of This Sea, Hammad is a Palestinian-American born to refugee parents. She is a prolific poet and political activist as well as an actress.

Lorber Films
Suheir Hammad

Close To Home: Like the character she plays in Salt of This Sea, Hammad is a Palestinian-American born to refugee parents. She is a prolific poet and political activist as well as an actress.

Lorber Films

The great shame is that Jacir possesses an impressive capacity for personal, deeply affecting filmmaking. It glimmers through the sermonizing, as when Emad takes Soraya up to a high point where she can wistfully gaze out at the sea where her grandfather swam before the occupation, or in the last third of the film, as the pair wander what's left of deserted Palestinian towns. For a short piece of borrowed time, they live on the road, romantic fugitives in an idyllic bubble.

Soraya's conflicts largely become internalized, and she's left quietly wondering what to do next. When she drops the message-making, Jacir's camera shoots the wreckage and ruins with a caring and meditative eye, conveying Soraya's love for this place, even though it's populated by a people who are even more unwelcoming to her than is the dusty, blasted landscape.

But ultimately, in a film that highlights the physical barriers — walls, roadblocks, armed guards — that keep Palestinians where the Israelis want them, the film's biggest barrier is the one Jacir erects between Soraya and the viewer. She's easy to support in theory, but difficult to like in practice. Except in those too-rare moments when she drops the polemic and Jacir allows the story to carry the politics instead of the other way around.

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