QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM VENICE
Issa (Salim Dau) is a 60-year-old fisherman confined to the three-mile strip of the Mediterranean Sea which Palestinians are allowed to use. He leads a very lonely existence, without a wife, children or even a dog. His best friend wants to move to Europe, leaving their “shitty” land behind. His sister visits him occasionally, and seems to be the only one who cares for the lonely man. He longs for his youth, when he was in love with an 18-year-old adolescent “more beautiful than the moon” and there was no such fishing strip (the seas were open for navigation, at a time when Gaza was not surrounded by truculent Israeli forces).
One day, while trawling the sea Issa fishes an ancient Greek statue of Apollo, with a full-on erection. He hides the relic in his closet, accidentally snapping its penis off in the process. Eventually, the Palestinian police uncover his unusual find, and Issa is consequently arrested for a short period of time. The castrated statue and Issa have some similarities: they are sexually inactive and mostly lifeless males. It is not in vain that Issa retains the snapped genitalia long after the police have seized the statue.
But Issa is determined not to end up like the Greek relic, forgotten at the bottom of the sea. So he sets out to find love. He is enamoured with the seamstress Siham (played by the famous Palestinian actress and filmmaker Hiam Abbass). He wishes to ask for her hand, but encounters a number of obstacles in a deeply conservative society where arranged marriages are still common and family “honour” is paramount. His sister disapproves of the relationship simply because Siham’s daughter has a “disreputable” life. But Issa is stubborn, and he wishes to press ahead anyway.
Directed by two Palestinian twins, who dedicated the film to their father, Gaza Mon Amour is a delicate labour of love. Both Dau and Abbass deliver gently moving performances. The camera is mostly observational, almost Brechtian, with sparse lighting and numerous takes filmed from behind objects. The vaguely sombre and claustrophobic mood is offset by Issa’s quiet joi-de-vivre and intense determination to find company. This is a movie about small gestures of rebellion (against family, against authorities, against Israeli forces) carried out in the name of love. The ending is particularly effective, brimming with hope and humanity.
Gaza Mon Amour is showing at the 77th Venice International Film Festival, which is taking place right now.