Inheritance (Héritage): Film Review

Convincing portrait of a beleaguered Palestinian community torn between tradition and modernity.

Actress Hiam Abbass makes successful transition to helmer's role with deeply felt portrait of Palestinian community struggling with identity and modernity issues.

Making her directorial debut, Hiam Abbass locates the action of this ambitious family saga in several frontier zones: the frontiers between Israel and Lebanon, between religious and ethnic identities, between tradition and modernity, and between peace and war. Warplanes overfly the Palestinian village where her protagonists play out their various dramas at the beginning of the film and at its end, with the roar of engines or sudden explosions a regular reminder of the precarity of their lives. Best known as Palestine's leading movie actress, Abbass presents a convincing portrait of an embattled community struggling to find its place in the world. With its large cast of characters, the movie is demanding -- it takes a good while to work out precisely who is related to whom and how -- but rewarding. Inheritance is a good bet for specialist arthouses worldwide, in particular in urban centers that are home to communities of Middle Eastern origin.

The film is structured around the endeavors of Hajar (Hafsia Herzi) to carve out an independent life for herself. She is studying art in Haifa where she has shacked up with Matthew (Tom Payne), a young British teacher. She returns to her village for a family wedding and, unable to dissemble, tells the truth to her grandfather, the patriarch Khalil (Yussef Abu Warda) who responds angrily, calling her a slut - he has long favored the claims of her cousin Ali (G. A. Wasi).

Khalil has three sons, all of whom provide sub-plots: Majd (Makram Khoury), a heavily indebted businessman who is marrying off his daughter, Marwan (Ali Suleiman), a doctor married to a Christian woman who discovers that he is infertile, and Ahmad (Ashraf Barhom) who is standing for election as village mayor while cheating on his wife with a Jewish woman.

Among the numerous female roles the most notable is played by Abbass herself as Samira, Majd's wife, an embittered woman who has long since given up the struggle for her own independence and now sees no reason to help Hajar achieve hers.

This all makes for dense plotting but Abbass handles the material confidently, moving the action forward briskly in a succession of brief scenes with a longer wedding sequence at the heart of the film. Perhaps the best scenes are the quieter ones, such as when Hajar sits at Khalil's hospital bedside (he's in a coma, having suffered a stroke), kissing his hand as she tells him that she needs him, or the moment near the close when Ali sees Hajar off, wishing her well for the future, his heart breaking because he knows that all hope of her is lost.

Antoine Heberlé's fluid cinematography adds to the attractions of this deeply felt movie with striking city shots seen at night (presumably Haifa, though parts of the film were shot in Turkey) and aerial views of northern Israel's rugged hillsides.

Opens: Wednesday, Dec. 12
Production companies: Agat Films, Alma Films, Depo Film
Cast: Hafsia Herzi, Hiam Abbass, Yussef Abu Warda, Ashraf Barhom, Ruba Blal, Clara Khoury, Makram Khoury, Khalifa Natour, Ali Suleiman, G. A. Wasi, Tom Payne
Director: Hiam Abbass
Writers: Hiam Abbass, Ala Hiehel, G. A. Wasi, Nadine Naous, from an original screenplay by Ala Hiehel
Photography: Antoine Heberlé
Producers: Nicolas Blanc, Arik Bernstein, David Silver, Ender Sevim, Faruk Ozerten
Production Design: Nael Kanj
Editor: Guy Lecome
Music: Loic Dury
Sales: Film Distribution
No MPAA rating
Running time: 88 minutes