New Film Spotlights Palestinian Women Navigating Life 'In Between' Cultures : Parallels Maysaloun Hamoud's In Between highlights the challenges young Palestinian women face in Israel as they try to live amid contradictory expectations. Hamoud has received death threats since its release.
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New Film Spotlights Palestinian Women Navigating Life 'In Between' Cultures

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New Film Spotlights Palestinian Women Navigating Life 'In Between' Cultures

New Film Spotlights Palestinian Women Navigating Life 'In Between' Cultures

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A new film about three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv is getting good reviews in Israel and at international film festivals. It's called "Bar Bahar," and the English title is "In Between." It's the first feature by a young Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker. And while many people are praising the film, it has upset members of the filmmaker's own community. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Tel Aviv.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: I meet filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud at a cafe near her home in the seaside part of Jaffa on the edge of Tel Aviv. Hamoud is 35 in a long skirt, tank top and rose-tinted dark glasses. The title of her movie is tattooed on her right forearm.

MAYSALOUN HAMOUD: The Israelis said, you don't look like Arab, or you don't like a Palestinian. Huh? If I wear a dress or outfit that it looks like not religious, so I cannot be a Palestinian? I have to be like exactly how you design me?

KAKISSIS: But Hamoud's instantly recognized by one Jewish Israeli admirer, Einat Yiftach-El, who asks to take a selfie with her.

EINAT YIFTACH-EL: I thought it was an amazing movie, leaves you with many things to think of about a society that we actually don't really know.

KAKISSIS: Hamoud is among the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian Arabs. So are the three characters in her film - Layla, Salma and Nour - who share an apartment in Tel Aviv. They try to be their true selves while caught between a conservative Palestinian culture and a more liberal Israel that does not see them as equals.

HAMOUD: They are fighters. Each of them in her way fight to not compromise herself.

KAKISSIS: One character, Layla, is a successful lawyer who wins over her Jewish Israeli colleagues with tough deals. But her Palestinian boyfriend will not introduce her to his family. He wants her to give up her liberated lifestyle.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IN BETWEEN")

MOUNA HAWA: (As Layla, speaking Arabic).

KAKISSIS: "So if I give up smoking and drinking and dressing as I do, not to mention partying," she asks him, "what are you planning to give up?"

Her housemate Salma is a deejay with a pierced nose. She's hiding from her Christian family that she's gay. And then there's Nour. She's a pious Muslim in a headscarf who's studying computer science. In one scene, Nour's housemates tenderly wash her after she's raped by her fiance.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IN BETWEEN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking Arabic).

KAKISSIS: But Nour doesn't tell her family, even hiding the rape from her father when he talks about the new house the fiance is constructing for her.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IN BETWEEN")

SHADEN KANBOURA: (As Nour, speaking Arabic).

KAKISSIS: "Believe me, father," she says. "Some people live in palaces, but God only knows what their lives are like inside." Hamoud says she's received hundreds of messages from women who say, that's me.

HAMOUD: A lot of people see themselves in the movie and see people they know. And those characters are all over around us. Just we don't see them.

KAKISSIS: One town did not like seeing itself in the movie. Nour is from Umm al-Fahm, a conservative Muslim town in northern Israel. The municipality has called for a boycott of the movie, saying it hurts the town's reputation. As a result, though lots of people have opinions about it, only two people we spoke to admitted to seeing it. One was an engineer named Said Mahazheh. He says the female characters are too sexually liberated, so he's forbidden his economist wife and 18-year-old daughter from going to the film.

SAID MAHAZHEH: (Through interpreter) I would be extremely upset if they saw the film. I want freedom, but this freedom must be constrained within our habits and customs and traditions.

KAKISSIS: Waseem Hosary, a lawyer, liked the film, and says Maysaloun Hamoud's exploration of male chauvinism masquerading as moralism is devastating.

WASEEM HOSARY: If anyone, not just Maysaloun, and any girl, any woman discuss even this issue - trouble.

KAKISSIS: If Maysaloun had been named Mohammad, he says, she may have been spared. "In Between" is set to hit U.S. theaters this summer. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANU DELAGO SONG, "BIGGER THAN HOME")

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