Annamarie Jacir, “Salt of this Sea” (2008)

 

Soraya is Palestinian New Yorker who returns to the land where her family originates. She dreams about the oranges of Jaffa remembering the memories learnt from her grandfather, who swam in the sea everyday before strolling around the streets of the city. Soon, she finds Emad, a waiter in Ramallah with whom she finds herself at ease, and Marwan, a movie maker friend of him. Their personal relationship is not a romantic love story but a relationship of support and need examining the emotional depth of these catastrophic lives. Together they will surpass the geographical and moral limits imposed upon them. And searching for pride and dignity, they will soon find the sea beyond the wall which paradoxically becomes their dead end.

Their life pauses at the borders controlled by the Israeli army. Soraya is searched and questioned at her arrival at Tel Aviv airport to despairing limits and, apparently, she is the only person who understands her return. Her parents were born in a refugee camp in Lebanon; she intends to go to Ramallah; she is visiting her friend Corinne; she has no family left in the Territories; she has American passport, but hasn’t a Lebanese or Palestinian one… “You were lucky they let you in.” “Just tell them you are a tourist and you go to visit Tel Aviv.” “They don’t deserve the truth.” Soraya was surprised: “I have nothing to hide.”

The question arises every time anyone wants to grasp her plans: “Why do you want to come back when you are better off abroad?” Isn’t it obvious? She wants to come back to the place from where she was expelled before she was even born. But life in Palestine isn’t as easy and orange as she imagined. Frustration is the overall color of the movie that explodes when Soraya and Emad argue about what means to be Palestinian. “You don’t have to tell me what to be Palestinian means, I have been one all my life.” Nevertheless, the local authority does not accept her arguments and she is invited to leave the country. “You don’t have a Palestinian passport, your grandfather left before the agreements with Israel and we cannot give you residence. Go back to America, get another visa, and then return again.”

The movie is a continuous search for something that does not exist anymore except in form of dreams, memories, illusions, hopes… frustrations. Following the memorized instructions of her grandfather, she arrived at her family’s house, at her house, which is owned by somebody else now. Soraya is then overwhelmed with emotions and memories and she breaks down: “You can stay… you can stay with the only condition that you admit all of this was stolen.” The new dweller answers back: “I gave you my hand, welcomed you at my house and this is how you pay me?”

Eventually, Soraya and Emad found what they were really looking for when they arrived to Damawiya. The Palestine Soraya dreamt about had been destroyed to the ground and turned into a “biblical scenario” for a Jewish historian to teach their students about their roots. From then, Soraya and Emad start the evasion; they scape from their past and their present constructing their own future constrained by borders and passports.

The film is a candid description of the similarities and differences between the problems of a Palestinian New Yorker and a Palestinian from Ramallah. Return and emigration are opposed directions, but their fate is the same: negation. The storyline is obvious from the very beginning but this does not mean it is less oppressive or frustrating.  The emotional charge of the characters is very well transmitted to the spectator, which becomes the biggest achievement of this movie. 

The aesthetics of the movie portray very well the rough situation of its characters and the tone of the colors avoids a sweetened image. It is very interesting how the light is controlled to construct the feelings of the protagonists and to contextualize their situation. The sun and the shadows become a narrative tool when words can not really express their feelings.

In sum, this is an introductory movie to the diversity of the Palestinian society, and, although the story is somehow foreseeable, it is personal.

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