In 2013, a fisherman from Gaza netted a 2000-year-old statue of the ancient Greek god Apollo from the waters near the Egyptian border. Sensing the opportunity to drag themselves out of destitution, the fisherman’s family put the 300kg bronze relic on eBay for $500,000, only for the ruling Hamas authorities to confiscate it for themselves. Statue fingers were reportedly severed (one to take to a metals expert, the other melted by a jeweller) and allegations were fired back and forth about its authenticity. But barring a few photos of Apollo lying — bizarrely — on a Smurfs blanket, little has been seen of the archaeological haul since.
This near farcical story — which many have suggested is a perfect allegory for the impossible situation facing most people in Gaza — has already resulted in one documentary (2018’s The Apollo of Gaza). But now, thanks to Gazan filmmaking twins Arab and Tarzan Nasser, the statue has been given the feature film treatment — almost.
Much like their 2015’s Cannes-bowing debut Degrade, which used the real-life (and equally insane) account of a lion stolen by a gangland family from Gaza’s only zoo, in Gaza mon amour the Nassers have taken the tale of Apollo and wrapped it around a deadpan dramedy exploring opportunities for romance amid the daily grind of life in the besieged territory.
“Essentially, it’s a love story. We’ve used the statue to tell this love story, which is far more important for us,” says Arab Nasser. “People have talked about Hamas, about Israel, about war, even about fishing in Gaza, for a long, long time, but why not talk about a love story? This is our way of making a film which is nearer to the people than the politics.”
Gaza mon amour follows Issa (Salim Daw), a downtrodden 60-year-old fisherman barely making ends meet and under constant pressure by his nagging sister to find a wife (from a group she’s already pre-selected). But our lonely protagonist has long had his eyes on Siham (Succession’s Hiam Abbas), a quiet seamstress who runs a dress shop, although he can’t quite summon the courage to tell her.
The arrival of Apollo, caught unexpectedly in Issa’s net one day, breaks up his daily monotony in absurdist fashion, with Hamas soon banging on his door and subjecting him to endless questioning. But there’s one main difference between the real-life statue and the film prop: the addition of a prominent — and fully erect — appendage. It’s not long before Apollo is castrated.
“You can’t escape the politics,” says Tarzan. “There’s no option to ignore it and there’s no story in Palestine or Gaza that not linked to it directly or indirectly. But we try as much as we can to focus on this love story more than on politics.”
But the politics, invisible or not, weighs heavily on each and every character in Gaza mon amour, particularly Issa, with daily survival the main objective. “It’s exactly like that now, there is no horizon, but we have to continue living,” says Tarzan.
In place of Gaza, the film was shot in Jordan and Portugal, where the Nasser Brothers — who served as production designers (before their film work they were better known as artists) — painstakingly recreated their homeland. The role of Salim was actually written for Abbas, an acclaimed stage and screen star long before she became Logan Roy’s wife, who also appeared in Degrade (and, like the brothers, lives in Paris). “We’ve got a great relationship and friendship with her,” adds Tarzan, adding her character really reminded him of their mother (who he’s only seen over Skype since leaving Gaza 10 years ago).
As for Apollo himself, two statues were crafted for the film, one with a penis, one without. “I hope to have an apartment soon, and I’m planning to take one there,” admits Tarzan, without revealing which statue he’ll choose.