Palestinian movie being screened at Cannes festival is sharply critical of Hamas, Palestinian society
A Palestinian movie sharply critical of Hamas is not commonplace, but the Cannes Festival actually features such a film that provides a stinging rebuke to Gaza’s current way of life – between Israeli military oppression and the wild and uncontrollable violence on its streets.
“Degrade” is the latest movie by twin brothers Ahmed and Mohammed Abu-Nasr, better known as film makers Terzan and Arab Nasser, and it was picked to be screened at the Cannes’ Critics Week, the festival’s sidebar dedicated to first and second films from up-and-coming artists. Judging by the presence at the first three screenings on Monday, the audience seems curious and pleased. And the Nasser brothers may be in line for some prizes.
Heading the Critics Week judges panel is Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz, whose political views are well known, as is her feminist attitude – and that is exactly where the Nasser Brothers direct their surprising film.
This is a small film that takes place at one location – a Gaza beauty salon frequented by women of various ages and walks of life. This is a colorful sliver of paradise populated by a future bride, a cynical divorcee, a young pregnant woman, a religious woman veiled and covered from head to toe, as well as the owner of the establishment, who hails from Russia, a militant hairdresser and a bitter, older woman portrayed by Nazareth-born Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas.
Together they create a complex microcosm reflected in conversations about such issues as politics, religion and men, of course – unlike men, who deal with their disputes by letting off Kalachnikov rounds on the street. This gender-based difference is honed when the hairdresser’s lover, son of a local family, steals a lion from Gaza’s infamous zoo. This is a slap in the face of the Hamas leaders and they declare war on him and his family, which turns the street into a dangerous and especially very noisy place.
The Nasser Brothers say the film is based on a true story. “There was a very powerful family which owned the lion and the government attacked the family in order to take ownership,” Tarzen explained in an interview. When Hamas assumed power in 2006 they decided to take control of all the big families and looked for excuses to do so. On their way to achieving their goal, they killed 15 of the family members.”
All these events are experienced by the film’s characters and by us in the audience from inside the salon, where the women want to hang out until such time as calm is restored. But the violence goes on for hours, and with the sounds of shooting and explosions as a backdrop, the women share intimate experiences – almost contrived, talking about love affairs, their attitude toward life, a religious way of life versus a secular one, as well as Gaza’s deterioration. True, Israel is mentioned quite often in a negative fashion, but at the center of the debate is the Hamas rule and Palestinian society being torn apart under its auspices.
“Women in Gaza are like other women in the world, although their suffering is very unique,” the 26-year-old brothers said in media interviews. “We need women in order to bring about change in Gaza. They are our heroes because despite the ongoing war, they represent life. The movie shows battles outside the beauty salon, but inside they continue with their love stories. They want to remain beautiful, hoping for a date or marriage. While men are shooting at each other on the street, putting on lipstick becomes an act of protest: holding on to life no matter the circumstances, keeping hope alive.”