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Salt of This Sea
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by Lybarger

"Bonnie and Clyde: 80 years later, halfway around the world."
4 stars

‘Salt of This Sea’ features a heroine who is as sympathetic as her actions are regrettable. Palestinian writer-director Annemarie Jacir’s feature debut follows a woman who makes great sacrifices for what most would consider small change. As the film gradually reveals, the stakes are potentially greater than something that can be measured on a balance sheet.

“Salt of This Sea” begins with what appears to be an unwarranted and intrusive search. Brooklyn-born waitress Soraya (moonlighting New York poet Suheir Hammad in a solid acting debut) simply can’t get off of a plane and head to see her friends and relatives in Ramallah. The Israeli guards who question her want to know her entire family history and all but strip search her before letting her proceed.

As it turns out, the locals in Ramallah inform her that she’s lucky to even be allowed into the city. Her travel plans are inadvertently loaded with red flags. Having just lost her father and feeling out of place in her native city, Soraya is almost inordinately eager to try her luck in Palestine.

This is particularly tough because she’s arrived with little cash of her own. Furthermore, many of the locals, particularly a thoughtful young man named Emad (Saleh Bakri) want nothing more than to leave Palestine for good. Just as Soraya has an idealized view of her ancestral home, Emad believes that everyday annoyances like speed bumps are a uniquely Israeli form of oppression.

Soraya has come to Ramallah in part to claim an inheritance of approximately 300 Palestinian Pounds. The money hasn’t been touched since the founding of modern Israel in the late 1940s, but finding the right documentation to claim it proves almost impossible. Because Soraya is the daughter and granddaughter of refugees, nobody in the family has all the documentation to prove that she’s eligible for the cash. Even if all the paperwork existed, she discovers that she has to jump through an intimidating series of bureaucratic hoops that are probably more labor intensive than the actual money is worth.

Having travelled half the world, Soraya isn’t giving up. She, Emad and an aspiring filmmaker named Marwan (Riyad Ideis) team up to rob the bank and claim what’s hers even if it means they’ll have to spend the rest of their lives on the run.

Because of her rootlessness, Soraya becomes sympathetic even though she flirts with disaster at every turn. Because she really doesn’t have anything better to do, life as a fugitive seems far more attractive than returning to a slow spiritual death in New York. As a result, Soraya’s wanderings through Jaffa and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, come off as awakenings although she and Emad spend as much time dodging authorities as they do seeing a world neither has known about before. Many of Soraya’s actions make her fellow Palestinians roll their eyes. At times she seems naively assured of her rightness when a little bit of caution might bring her closer to what she wants.

Jacir is critical of the occupation of Palestine, but some of the film’s most engaging scene occur when it steps away for the soap box and examines some of the nuances of the conflict. At traffic stops, an Israeli cop practically moonwalks as he directs traffic, and Marwan would much rather make love stories instead of political diatribes. When Soraya comes to her ancestral house, the Israeli woman who lives there actually invites her in and discusses her own opposition to the occupation.

Soraya and Emad both seem to be searching for home that’s not likely to exist anywhere in the physical world. Because their goals are so ethereal, it’s easy to see why they risk so much for what seem like minor takings. Perhaps 300 Pounds might as well be a million or even one. With all the obstacles they encounter, the results of stealing any sum will probably be the same.

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originally posted: 08/17/10 07:30:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Traverse City Film Festival 2009 For more in the Traverse City Film Festival 2009 series, click here.

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