Salt of This Sea


About the only positive thing that can be said about the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict is that it has provoked some great films exploring the problem.

Suheir Hammad is Soraya, an entirely appalling American-born Palestinian woman who is travelling to the home of her family and seems intent only on displaying her outrage at every insult she must bear (and thus confirming the stereotype of the ugly American tourist).Salt of This Sea (Milh Hadha Al-Bahr) Transitting Israel, she is strip-searched and repeatedly questioned about her reasons for going to Palestine. After achieving her entry, she quickly ditches her good friend, whom she is supposedly visiting in Ramallah, and starts the process of trying to reclaim the lost money and property of her dead grandfather.

Perhaps others will find more empathy for the character of Soraya, however many will react in a similar way to me. Her arrogance and naïvete are so stunning that it is hard to feel anything for her plight. Much of the trouble she experiences she brings on herself through self-righteousness, but worse is that she causes all sorts of complications for those she becomes close to. As the film is essentially a portrait of an outsider’s experience of the oppression of Palestinians by Israelis, it loses much of its emotional impact by choosing a character so unpleasant to focus its energy on.

This is even more important when one considers that the male lead (Saleh Bakri as Emad) has what is potentially a far more interesting story to tell. Bakri’s performance is quiet and dignified, and, although Hammad does an excellent job as Soraya, it is the character of Emad that allows the film to achieve an emotional impact. The plight of local Palestinians is far more concerning to this viewer than that of an arrogant woman who can leave at any time thanks to her American passport, and who spends a matter of just days without the freedom she grew up with.

There are several sequences that work extremely well to convey writer/director Annemarie Jacir’s message. The return of Soraya to her grandparents’ former home is a showpiece scene that carries quite a punch, although much of this is lost in later conflict. Emad’s visit to his childhood hometown also works well. Less effective however are moments that border on absurd. That three Palestinians could cross an armed checkpoint into Israel without being checked, simply by putting on yarmulkes and having a Star of David hanging from their rear-view mirror, is a ridiculous concept. Additionally, illegal Palestinians in Israel are reasonably unlikely to shout to each other at the beach in Arabic – one suspects they’d be more likely to keep a lower profile.

Although there are some fairly major flaws in character and plot, the film does manage to achieve a certain resonance. It is refreshing to see a side of this conflict often not presented, as most of our media’s coverage of Palestine is devoted to terrorists and suicide bombers. The most powerful message that comes through, however, is of abject pessimism about the chance of conciliation.

Rating: 3.0 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 1st August 2008
Hoopla Factor: 2.5 stars

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