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Film Review: In “Gaza Mon Amour,” Love Keeps Hope Alive

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | November 4th, 2021

Film poster: “Gaza Mon Amour”

Gaza Mon Amour (Arab Nasser/Tarzan Nasser, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.

A deceptively slight, sweet tale of autumnal passion under occupation, Gaza Mon Amour proves of greater significance than we at first think it will. Slowly, the quotidian humiliations of arbitrary subjugation reveal themselves, all wrapped up in a gentle dramedy that keeps the narrative surprises coming. Though the machinations of the ruling party, Hamas, are always in the background, our eyes are firmly focused on protagonists Issa (Salim Daw, Oslo) and Siham (Hiam Abbass, Marcia on HBO’s Succession series), two single sexagenarians who have nothing in common beyond their loneliness. Will fate bring them together? Given that life in Gaza offers few possibilities for much of anything, why not?

At least they each have some form of companionship. The widowed Siham has an adult (if divorced) daughter, Leila (Maisa Abd Elhadi, Tel Aviv on Fire), around, while Issa has his sister, Manal (Manal Awad, Huda’s Salon), to check up on him. Siham is a seamstress and Issa a fisherman. Neither has much opportunity to do anything but work to survive, given the severe restrictions placed on movement and commerce by the Israelis. For sure, the neighboring country has reason to be wary of their Palestinian brethren, but policies that prevent any kind of meaningful life hardly make for viable long-term solutions. No matter the frequent lightheartedness of the movie, we are never allowed to forget this basic fact.

l-r: Salim Daw and Hiam Abbass in GAZA MON AMOUR ©Samuel Goldwyn Films

One night, while out on his boat, Issa hauls in an unusual catch: an antique sculpture of a well-endowed Greek god. Both statue and phallus will play major roles in the plot, though at first they feel like distractions (if amusing ones) from Issa’s would-be courtship of Siham. As time goes on, however, the police shenanigans around the ancient treasure’s recovery reveal much about official corruption. Between gunfire, missiles, and local officials in it for their own gain, what’s an infatuated fisherman to do?

Such are the obstacles that Issa must overcome, and though the resolution feels both rushed and forced, there is still plenty to enjoy about the experience. Twin brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser (Dégradé), themselves from the area, have a fine sense of character, pacing and absurdity as they explore the unlikely romance at the story’s center. Their two leads bring a beautiful naturalism to their performances, supported by an equally strong ensemble cast. The stakes may feel small at the start, but what is more important than love, after all? Even in Gaza, there’s hope for the future.

Maisa Abd Elhadi in GAZA MON AMOUR ©Samuel Goldwyn Films

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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