In one continuous shot, the camera follows a car painted with the Palestinian flag blaring Arabic songs down the main thoroughfare. As the camera passes through the local cafe, the cafe's owner pulls a child inside. She slams the door shut as military trucks and armed soldiers arrive, shots ringing out. The sudden descent from song — provocative but nonviolent nationalism — into gunfire is shocking.
This scene is from Najwa Najjar's "Pomegranates and Myrrh," the opening film in this year's Palestinian Film Festival screened last night at the Avon Cinema.
Yasmine Elmasri displays an impressive emotional range as Kamar, an independent Palestinian Christian dancer who marries a man named Zaid at the beginning of the film. Shortly after, Israeli soldiers arrive in the middle of the night to confiscate his olive farm, and Zaid is accused of punching a soldier during a confrontation. He is beaten and imprisoned, and Kamar faces a daunting legal struggle to free her husband and save the land. As Zaid falls into a depression, she turns to her dance troupe for solace and forms a bond with the handsome choreographer Kais, a Palestinian returned from Lebanon.
Perhaps appropriately, the film ends without a clear resolution. But Najjar's cinematography presents a compelling vision of the difficulties of everyday Palestinian life.
After Zaid's arrest, images of the concrete walls and barbed wire separating Israeli and Palestinian land feature prominently. During Kamar's first drive to see her husband in prison, a scene of the wall segues into one of the prison walls. Kamar is separated from Zaid by a wire screen, its pattern imposed on their faces. One of the most touching moments is a kiss through the screen, which ends with an abrupt command of "Move back!"
Also moving are the scenes of the family's farm being taken over by Israeli settlers. They fence off the land and slowly establish signs of ownership — pitching a tent, planting a flag and threatening Kamar with guns. They break her windows and, later, invade and vandalize her home, smashing all of her belongings and graffitiing the Star of David on the walls.
But the film is not wholly depressing. The oversexed, gossipy cafe proprietress, whose forceful personality even intimidates the soldiers patrolling the Ramallah streets, provides comic relief.
In this setting, the symbolic value of dance becomes clear. Scenes of imprisonment and checkpoints are contrasted with Kamar and her troupe's free, expressive movements. Kamar cannot go to Jerusalem without a permit, go onto her own farmland or free her husband from jail. Through dance, she reasserts control over her movements and future.
The Palestinian Film Festival is run by the student group Common Ground: Equality and Justice in Palestine/Israel. Group leader Henry Peck '11 told The Herald it was the only student-run Palestinian film festival in the country. It emphasizes "film as a medium for looking at the conflict," he added.
"I've never watched a movie quite like this" said Nathan Elder '13, an audience member. He said that although he found the plot difficult to follow, he appreciated the "subtleties of Palestinian culture" that appear in the film. Ahmed Nofao, a sophomore at St. Lawrence University, said the film resonated with his own experiences as a Ramallah native. He said it was "very rich" and showed how "the occupation is attacking people's lives constantly in many ways."