Salt of This Sea – Water of Those Tears…

“They want to erase Palestine from the memory of the new generation, and anything I can do to fight that, I will be more than happy.” Shafiq Al-Hout 1999

Recently deceased PLO co-founder Shafiq Al-Hout once described his family’s exodus from Jaffa to Beirut in April 1948 with the following words: “How could we possibly reach Beirut? The land road was closed, and also dangerous… We had no choice but the sea. Thus we headed for the sea where a Greek ship called “Dolores” was awaiting us… which was so crowded, even on deck, that it was about to sink due to the huge number of people who hoped to seek refuge in the ports of Lebanon.”

It is exactly with a cinematic homage to this statement that Annemarie Jacir’s film Salt of This Sea opens. An ode to the Palestinian refugees, and those who feel displaced the world over, Salt of This Sea is both a personal journey through the oft overlooked headlines of today and a testament to a wrong that continues to be perpetrated, with little or no repercussions to the perpetrators.

After an initial, desolate shot from the sea of the ancient city of Jaffa, now part of the modern Israeli city of Tel Aviv, Jacir’s film begins in the city’s Ben Gurion Airport, where the Palestinian-American Soraya has just arrived from NY, looking to retrace her roots. As soon as she discloses her forefathers’ nationality to the customs authorities, Soraya is subjected to an assortment of searches and questions that make our border crossing procedures in the US seem like a visit to Disneyland. The recurring reasoning behind this abuse. “This is for your own security” a statement repeated by nearly every Israeli Soraya comes in contact with.

Given only a two-week visa to the country, as a result of her Palestinian heritage, Soraya begins her journey in Ramallah, where the joie de vivre of the Arab world envelops her at every turn. She is asked more than once what her sun sign is, instead of being given the third degree. A stark contrast to the uptightness and lack of sense of humor on the Israeli side… It’s no wonder Reuters reported at the beginning of August a sharp rise in property prices in Ramallah, accompanied by the appropriate building boom! Who’d want to live in Tel Aviv anyway?!

Oh, but there is one aspect of the city that appeals to Emad, the quiet, thoughtful Palestinian man who begins to accompany Soraya on her quest: The sea. He has not laid eyes upon the sea in 17 years, because of the check-points and restrictions that accompany his heritage in Israel. And it is his yearn for a voyage to the water, Soraya’s search for her Grandfather’s legacy as well as their friend’s Marwan craving for adventure that takes this trio on a journey that we, the audience, won’t forget or be left untouched by.

The couple become an Arab, modern day version of Bonnie and Clyde, on the run from both the Israeli military -- ever-present and always able to spot a Palestinian from a mile away, or so they think -- but also the Palestinian Authority. Within this flight from justice, Soraya discovers the source of her anger but also a kind of love that has a lot more to do with need than with mushy sentimentality. The acting -- by Suheir Hammad as Soraya, who brings her obvious inner strength to the part, Saleh Bakri as Emad, who is boyishly vulnerable and simply handsome, and Riyad Ideis as Marwan, the kind of guy you could swear is a good friend in real life -- is superb and I found it hard to believe this is the first film for all three leads.

Ultimately, for an Italian who grew up adoring the sweet taste of Jaffa oranges, has been an avid supporter of the Palestinian cause, but hardly knows the details of the 1948 Nakba or the exact lines of division -- personal and political -- for the West Bank and Gaza, Jacir’s Salt of This Sea is a great learning tool, at times emotionally charged, other moments very personal but engrossing throughout. And I’m all for a film that showcases a fabulously strong female lead, not afraid to be exactly who she is!

At a time when talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authorities are on the verge of resuming, it is undeniably a film worth watching. Salt of this Sea is a Lorber Films Release and opens at the Quad in NYC on Friday, August 13th.

All images courtesy of Kino Lorber Inc.

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6 Responses to “Salt of This Sea – Water of Those Tears…”

  1. E. Nina Rothe: The Abu Dhabi Film Festival: Where Cinematic Dreams Do Come True | Gossip Dawg:

    [...] feature. When I Saw You is Jacir’s follow up to her explosive and wonderfully real 2010 film Salt of this Sea, which featured one of the strongest heroines ever portrayed on the big screen. Add to that the [...]

  2. The Cannes Diaries 2015: Aishwarya, Hitchcock, Heelgate and <i>Wajib</i>Updates News | Updates News:

    [...] but for me it was double the surprise and double the joy. Since I watched her first feature Salt of This Sea, I’ve been following her career through to her poetic masterpiece When I Saw You, and Jacir [...]

  3. What Stupid Does | The Cannes Diaries 2015: Aishwarya, Hitchcock, Heelgate and Wajib - What Stupid Does:

    [...] but for me it was double the surprise and double the joy. Since I watched her first feature Salt of This Sea, I’ve been following her career through to her poetic masterpiece When I Saw You, and Jacir [...]

  4. The Cannes Diaries 2015: Aishwarya, Hitchcock, Heelgate and Wajib:

    [...] but for me it was double the surprise and double the joy. Since I watched her first feature Salt of This Sea, I’ve been following her career through to her poetic masterpiece When I Saw You, and Jacir [...]

  5. The Cannes Diaries 2015: Aishwarya, Hitchcock, Heelgate and <i>Wajib</i> - LogHim.com:

    [...] but for me it was double the surprise and double the joy. Since I watched her first feature Salt of This Sea, I’ve been following her career through to her poetic masterpiece When I Saw You, and Jacir [...]

  6. The Cannes Diaries 2015: Aishwarya, Hitchcock, Heelgate and Wajib,PrideNation Magazine:

    [...] but for me it was double the surprise and double the joy. Since I watched her first feature Salt of This Sea, I’ve been following her career through to her poetic masterpiece When I Saw You, and Jacir [...]

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