A minimalist deadpan dramedy with serious political undertones, Gaza Mon Amour offers up a vision of the Palestinian situation at once realistic and absurdist, revealing how even the simplest of love stories can be thwarted by a repressive government, collective human foibles and an ancient Greek statue with a major erection.
This second feature from the directing duo of Tarzan and Arab Nasser (Dégradé) has hints of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki, although it feels closest to the witty, surreal works of fellow Palestinian Elie Suleiman (It Must Be Heaven). It’s a rather ludicrous tale set in an even more ludicrous world, but a world that in many ways exists — at least for those who currently reside in the Hamas-governed territory of the Gaza Strip.
A tad slow at times, Gaza Mon Amour nonetheless has its heart in the right place, with stars Salim Daw (Tel Aviv on Fire) and Hiam Abbas (Succession, Ramy) providing moving turns as a would-be couple in a land that leaves them little room for love. After premiering in Venice’s Horizons sidebar, the film could see more festival play and pickups abroad, including in its various co-producing countries.
Daw plays Issa, a 60-year-old fisherman who lives alone and barely gets by selling his wares on the street. His monotonous and solitary routine is only broken up by glimpses of Siham (Abbas), a woman his age who runs a dress shop at the marketplace, and whom Issa clearly has the hots for but cannot quite muster up the courage to ask out.
It all seems fairly cute and harmless until Issa nets an unusual catch while out fishing one night: an original bronze sculpture of the Greek god Apollo replete with a prominent, and fully erect, penis. This throws a sizable monkey wrench (or is that a Hellenistic schlong?) into Issa’s life, especially when the police get wind of his treasure and subject him to a slew of searches, seizures and jail sentences, claiming that the statue ultimately belongs to the Palestinian authorities.
The Nasser Brothers, as they are called in the credits, set their story against a backdrop of despair and lethargy in present-day Gaza. There are constant blackouts, occasional bombs lobbed by the Israeli Defense Forces, and anyone who’s young enough seems to want to get out — especially Siham’s daughter, Leila (Maisa Abd Elhadi), who works in her mother’s shop but is on the verge of expatriating abroad.
Yet the film’s tone is never altogether dark, with the Nassers making light of the situation through offbeat comedy, including a few jokes surrounding the Apollonian penis (which, at one point, gets separated from the rest of the statue) and one sequence where a display of Hamas’ military might turns into a Chaplin-esque farce.
At just under 90 minutes, the narrative can creep along in too-leisurely fashion in spots, with moments of dead air and a few scenes that run on for too long. But the film works its way toward a touching conclusion — and one that doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality Issa and Siham will always have to face as residents of a territory ruled internally by an Islamic fundamentalist organization while externally still controlled by Israel.
Daw provides a forlorn yet droll presence as a man constantly subjected to Hamas’ bullying, as well as to a nagging sister (Manal Awad) still trying to marry him off. Abbas, who’s been a star in the Middle East and Europe for years and is now known in the U.S. for portraying Logan Roy’s wife on HBO’s Succession and Ramy Youssef’s mother onHulu’s Ramy, skillfully underplays Siham as a woman who says much more with her eyes than through the few words she pronounces.
Production companies: Les Films du Tambour, Riva Filmproduktion, Ukbar Filmes, Made in Palestine Project, Jordan Pioneers
Cast: Salim Daw, Hiam Abbas, Maisa Abd Elhadi, George Iskandar, Hitham Al Omai, Manal Awad
Directors: Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser
Screenwriters: Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser, in collaboration with Fadette Drouard
Producers: Rani Massalha, Marie Legarnd, Michael Eckelt, Pandora da Cunha Telles, Pablo Iraola, Rashid Abdelhamid, Khaled Haddad
Director of photography: Christophe Graillot
Production designers: Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser
Costume designer: Hamada AtallahEditor: Véronique Lange
Composer: Andre Matthias
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Horizons)