A 7 Hour Difference: Film Review

A Muslim-Christian dating problem explodes in a flat Jordanian TV-style drama.

Filmmaker Deema Amr's debut, about a Muslim-Christian dating conflict, falls flat.

It’s not easy to explain the submerged cultural differences between the West and an apparently modern Arab country like Jordan; A 7 Hour Difference makes a valiant attempt but basically goes down swinging. This first feature by director-writer-producer Deema Amr suffers from flat TV visuals and thinly drawn characters which keep viewers at a polite distance from the important issues it raises. The Middle East may or may not appreciate its daring ending, the film’s one strike at originality, but it will be straight to dvd in other time zones.

The problem of mixed religion dating, which can lead to mixed religion marriage and mixed religion children, is tackled as usual as a Romeo and Juliet dilemma, with the twist that Juliet’s internalized social mores are the main obstacle to true love. Dalia (Randa Karadsheh), a middle-class Jordanian girl studying architecture in Boston with a view to opening a studio back home, has been going out with the loving, attractive, funny, etc. Italo-American Jason (Thom Bishops). He wants to bring their relationship out in the open, but after three years of dating she still hasn’t worked up the courage to tell her family.

The action takes place in Amman during the days leading up to her sister’s big fat Jordanian wedding. When Jason turns up uninvited, Dalia expresses shock and dismay, and is even more flustered (though also pleased) when he proposes to her. While she postpones talking to Dad, the script diligently piles up the pros and cons to their union. The main pro is Jason, well played by Bishops (The Final Cut) as a delightfully game lover not afraid to make the cultural leap. The cons are Dalia’s deep-seated fear of social ostracism and the worldly temptations heaped on her by her family.

Played as straight drama without a whiff of comedy (though Karadsheh, a radio star making her film debut, has more the look of a comedienne), it all boils down to Dalia getting mired in impossible questions like, “You think love is enough? What religion would our children be? Will you convert?” The minimal chemistry between the two leads makes the answers of little import one way or the other.

As a sociological study, the film hits a few nails on the head, as when Dalia tells Jason there’s no boy-girl touching in public, though she thinks nothing of spending the night with him in private. Hypocrisy seems to be as deeply engrained as social convention. Actress Leila Arabi, pleasant in a supporting role as Dalia’s more liberated Egyptian friend Rula, expresses the viewer’s frustration with the self-indulgent heroine when she comments, “I guess you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Much of the dialogue is in American slang, by turns incongruous and communicative, but justified by the circumstances.

Venue: Dubai Film Festival (In Competition)
Cast: Randa Karadsheh, Thom Bishops, Ghassan Mashini, Leila Arabi, Eyas Younis, Manal Sehaimat 
Production company:  Royal Film Commission of Jordan 
Director: Deema Amr
Screenwriter: Deema Amr 
Producers: Mervat Aksoy, Deema Amr
Executive producers:  George David, Mohammad Bakri 
Director of photography: Duraid Munajim
Production designer: Rime Al-Jabr
Music: Talal Abu Al-Ragheb
Costumes.  Fadi Omeish
Editor: Ayham Abu Hammad 
Sales Agent: Royal Film Commission EduFeature Program 
No rating, 80 minutes.

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