Arab and Tarzan Nasser are twin brother filmmakers from Gaza. Their sophomore film is a sweet-natured romance within a conservative regime. Funny, charming, and above all quietly tender and simplistic in its representation of yearning for love, Gaza Mon Amour is a captivating romantic comedy set in a turbulent time in Palestine.
The film follows the life of a 60-year-old fisherman named Issa (Salim Dau). He is a lonesome wolf who goes out to fish on his own and mostly lives by himself. Other than the occasional visit from a nosy sister, there’s nothing much to accompany him in his daily life. Sans the occasional chat with a workmate, he almost always keeps it to himself. He isn’t complaining though. The reason why he keeps going is his tender feelings for Siham (Hiam Abbass). She is a dressmaker who runs a shop that passes through the fish market. The desire he has for her makes up for most of his day-dreams and afterthoughts.
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Siham, on the other hand, is a beautiful woman whose middle-aged daughter is a walking rebellion to the traditional ways of the country. Unlike other women her age, she dresses and talks differently. The reason for her disdain is an unsuccessful marriage and a complete lack of understanding between herself and her mother. She occasionally helps Siham with her clothes as there’s a ton of work at the shop. Pretty much like Issa, Siham also longs for connection. Though the ways of her country make her wish about that in private.
The two cross each other’s path quite a few times until Issa finds the courage to encounter Siham on one of her daily strolls to work. Both of them aren’t exactly aware of how to deal with this sudden newness in their life. While Issa is gaga over the fact that he at least managed to get that one moment with her, she is happy to be noticed and admired. However, before their supposed love-story could take off, Issa discovers an ancient greek statue of Apollo on one of his fishing rounds. The to-be love story takes a back seat as Issa tries to keep the statue to himself. Hamas (Palestinian police) gets involved and the conflict really gets more political as the film continues.
Arab and Tarzan Nasser’s ‘Gaza Mon Amour’ is an irresistibly charming outing. The simple premise is peppered with an urgent societal undertone and absurdist humor that would remind you of Jim Jarmusch or Aki Kaurismäki. While the brother’s direction and humor are more narrative-driven, it may also remind festival audiences of last years’ brilliant ‘It Must Be Heaven‘ by fellow Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman.
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The fact that the Gaza Strip – a politically charged and repressive regime occupied by authority figures has been presented with such a gentle and light touch makes for a glorious watch. The director duo’s main focus is showing a late-life romance taking place in the midst of a political milieu. It’s an unconventional romantic comedy because the humor comes out mostly from absurd situations. For instance, there’s a sequence where Issa is unable to move the statue of Apollo to a ravaged corner of the house, and suddenly the erected penis of the statue falls off. He later takes it to a jewelry shop as a sample piece.
There’s a touch of old-school Italian neo-realism as darker places serve as a backdrop of something truly beautiful. While the director duo focuses their lens mostly on Issa and his desires, there’s no way they leave out the more urgent things like people trying to escape to Europe as they are done with the Gaza authority or the government and police being completely clueless about what to do with the statue. These pressing issues and sequences give the film a sense of place that is so direly needed because of the titular promise.
Gaza’s current political climate serves only as a backdrop to this truly human story about finding love and true connection. The film works mostly because of two fantastic performances at its center. Veteran actors Salim Dau and Hiam Abbass are more than up for the task of presenting their vulnerabilities through the viewpoint of the directors. The set design that complements their view is ably helmed by a framing approach that doesn’t keep things bleak in spite of what the film could represent.
Overall, Gaza Mon Amour is an offbeat comedy and a truly unconventional romance that is humanized by the fact that no tragedy and repression can stop people from loving each other.