I recently had the chance to go see Annemarie Jacir’s first feature film, “Salt of this Sea” at Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The film tells the story of a young woman, Soraya (Suheir Hammad), born and raised in Brooklyn to Palestinian refugee parents, and her return to her homeland to reclaim her heritage as well as a material inheritance, the holdings of her grandfather’s bank account, held by the bank since the 1948 war.
As the title suggests, the sea is the binding element in all the chapters of the film: who can see the sea, who can swim in it and who can live by it. Soraya, whose trip to the region takes an unexpected turn when the bank refuses to give her the inherited money owed to her and her family, becomes more aware of her ties to Palestine and her purpose in coming there. Intent of getting what is hers, claiming her so-called right to return, she takes back what is owed and robs the bank with the help of Emad (Saleh Bakri), her love interest and Marwan (Riyad Ideis), Emad’s friend. The three then escape into Israel, eluding the border police disguised as Jews and begin on an ecstatic trip outside of the territories.
Jacir’s film evokes the struggle to reconnect with place and heritage after a lifetime of exile. As the film progresses, Soraya’s naiveté about Palestine turns to resentment, and her anger is directed at those not necessarily deserving of it. We understand her anger as gut reaction to what she is seeing and experiencing for the first time, but Soraya sometimes resembles a sounding piece for the conflict rather than a developed character. Saying this, Hammad’s performance is engaging, and her chemistry with the Bakri and Ideis allow for an easy camaraderie.
The film made exquisite use of tactile moments – Soraya touching the ancient walls of Jaffa, or playing with the leftover rind of an orange – to draw us into her characters’ universe. In the end, one cannot help but taste the salt on your lips in light of the character’s joy dancing in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time – seeing that their escape allowed them then to return to a place now forbidden.
Posted by Lauren Pearson.