Salt Of This Sea

The first Palestinian-produced feature directed by a woman, Annemarie Jacir’s feature debut, Salt of This Sea, takes the audience to some unexpected and uncomfortable places.   It’s typical of “issue” films that oppressed people are represented by some type of noble hero or heroine who stands above their oppressor -- someone more forgiving, more...read more

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Reviewed by Josh Ralske
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The first Palestinian-produced feature directed by a woman, Annemarie Jacir’s feature debut, Salt of This Sea, takes the audience to some unexpected and uncomfortable places.

It’s typical of “issue” films that oppressed people are represented by some type of noble hero or heroine who stands above their oppressor -- someone more forgiving, more understanding than the rest. This is not generally the case with Palestinian cinema. Filmmakers like Hany Abu-Assad and Elia Suleiman aren’t afraid to give their protagonists a certain edge, and Jacir takes things a bit further, giving us Soraya (poet Suheir Hammad), a hot-tempered Palestinian-American woman from Brooklyn who seems to be angrily demanding her own personal “right of return.”

Soraya travels to Israel and then to Ramallah. Her grandfather left his house in Jaffa during the Nakba in 1948, and Soraya’s parents were raised in a refugee camp in Lebanon before immigrating to the States. Her initial plan is to collect the money that her grandfather left in his Palestinian bank account, but when that plan is thwarted (the Israelis seized the account ages ago, she’s told by sympathetic but ineffectual Palestinian bureaucrats), her plans get even more complicated. Soraya decides to get a job and live in the West Bank, despite the fact that her visa will expire in a couple of weeks. She meets Emad (Saleh Bakri), a handsome waiter, and his filmmaker friend Marwan (Riyad Ideis), and enlists them in a farfetched scheme to rob back the money that was taken from her grandfather. Eventually, the three illegally cross the border into Israel, where they find an odd kind of freedom, and Soraya visits her grandfather’s home.

The film has a leisurely pace and a naturalistic feel, with handheld camerawork catching both Ramallah street life (with a hip-hop-inflected soundtrack) and the gorgeous scenery of Jaffa and the Mediterranean Sea. The production would lead one to expect a slice of life, but that doesn’t jibe with the story, which is a bit fantastic. The unlikely bank robbery (which takes up about 45 seconds of screen time) and escape into Israel, and Soraya and Emad setting up house late in the film, almost suggest magic realism.

Whether one buys the story or not, more than a few viewers will be put off by Soraya. She’s humiliated on her way into Israel, harassed with intensively personal questions, and thoroughly searched (the film’s depiction of Israeli authorities’ treatment of Palestinians seems very true to life, sadly). Certainly her anger at being unable to claim her grandfather’s legacy is completely justified (though one wonders if such a well-educated woman would really have expected things to go any better). But she’s shrill and strident for much of the film, and lashes out hardest at the one genuinely friendly and well-meaning Israeli she comes across. Her impulsive actions also put her friends at serious risk.

While Salt of This Sea shows us this part of the world from a point-of-view we rarely get to see, it is a problem is that Soraya is our portal into this world. Even if Jacir means for us to feel ambivalent about the character (in the press notes, she acknowledges that Soraya’s anger may make her “harder to access” for some viewers), her film seems to take on some of Soraya’s traits. It feels a bit more didactic and confrontational than it needs to be. Then again, a conscientious viewer will be forced to examine his or her own discomfort with this prickly character (and film), and there’s value in that.

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  • Released: 2008
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The first Palestinian-produced feature directed by a woman, Annemarie Jacir’s feature debut, Salt of This Sea, takes the audience to some unexpected and uncomfortable places.   It’s typical of “issue” films that oppressed people are represented by some… (more)

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