Dir.: Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser; Cast: Salim Dau, Hiam Abbass, Maisa Abd Elhadi, George Iskandar, Manal Awad; France/Palestine/Germany/Portugal/Qatar 2020, 86 min.
Love and war on the West Bank where the refugee camp has become home for two generations of Palestinians. But politics plays second fiddle to this pithy personal story about the people who live here.
Fisherman Issa (Dau) is a grumpy, old man – and there are many reasons for single status. His best friend, Samir (Iskandar) has given all his savings to people smugglers, and will soon leave his family behind. Then there is Issa’s sister Manal (Awad), who wants to marry him off to a wealthy woman, dragging five suitable candidates into Issa’s small flat. But the fisherman has already fallen for Siham (Abbass), a seamstress, who lives with her divorced daughter Leila (Elhadi), who prefers university life to helping her mother. For Manal, this match would ruin her brother’s reputation: a divorced daughter and a bride who meddles in business – clearly a male prerogative.
Then things take a comic turn when Issa catches an old Greek statue in his net, instead of fish. He drags the man-sized object home, but drops it, and the rather large penis breaks off in the process. Issa takes the appendage to the jeweller, who offers him a good price, but Issa declines. Next day, the police search his home, uncover the statue (minus the missing piece) and Issa ends up in jail. The authorities ask an expert to value the piece of art, but when the academic claims it represents the God Apollo, he is ticked off: the use of the word ‘ God’ it not permitted. Religious scruples aside, a foreign museum offers a competitive price and would go higher if the missing piece is found. Issa gives it to the police, but only after having been promised a reward. Meanwhile his sister collects more ‘dirt’ on Manal, and there is nothing but offence left for Issa, he is simply an awkward bugger getting old, and lonely, so marriage seems his only option. Meanwhile Amir has had enough of it and leaves his wife and children behind. The other character with big dreams is Leila: she wants success on her own terms, and while she doesn’t want to be stuck at home with her mother, she loathes the thought of another repressive husband, despite her mother’s advice to settle down.
DoP Christophe Graillot shows Gaza as it is: a planner’s housing nightmare, put together decades ago as a transitional solution but now falling apart. And the inhabitants, are under just as much under the IDF cosh with their daily bombing raids as the business owners – Siham’s boss cuts her wages, telling her to be glad she’s not laid off – like others. And the electricity company charges exorbitant prices, even though regular black-outs disrupt everyday life. But then there is Issa, dreaming of love in midst of the chaos of this run-down but obdurate community.
With great performances by Dau and Abbass, Gaza Mon Amour is a slow-burning humanist tale of bizarre and absurd contradictions. AS
GAZA MON AMOUR IS PALESTINE’S OSCAR ENTRY IN THE 93rd ACADEMY AWARDS | NOW ON VOD AND in US theatres.