By Richard Ades
A 60-year-old fisherman in the Gaza Strip decides it’s finally time to get married. Then he pulls up his net and finds a statue of the Greek god Apollo. That’s the setup for Gaza Mon Amour.
Is there some connection between the man’s marital decision and his maritime discovery? If there is, writer-director-brothers Tarzan and Arab Nasser don’t spell it out, any more than they explain why the film’s title apparently pays homage to Alain Resnais’s 1959 French New Wave classic, Hiroshima Mon Amour.
The statue and the title are just two more quirky elements in a tale that combines romance with political commentary in such a droll, understated way that even its darker moments are leavened with a sly sense of humor.
Issa (Salim Daw, aka Salim Dau) fishes by night and runs a shop selling fish and other items during the day. Though he’s never been married and apparently hasn’t even expressed interest in matrimony since he was a teenager, he surprises sister Manal (Manal Awad) one day by announcing his desire to wed.
Despite Issa’s strict order that she not get involved, Manal takes the news as her cue to begin rounding up eligible women. And when she learns he already has his eye on widowed shop clerk Siham (Hiam Abbass), Manal argues that she’s not an appropriate choice for a devout Muslim because she has a divorced daughter (Maisa Abd Elhadi). Ignoring her, Issa sticks to his quest, but his own shyness proves to be a high hurdle.
Meanwhile, both Issa and Siham deal with the daily stresses and challenges that are part of life in the tiny Gaza Strip. Among them are poverty, power outages and occasional Israeli airstrikes, as well as local officials who wield their authority like petty dictators.
It’s all too much for a young friend of Issa’s, who has planned an illegal and potentially dangerous escape to Europe. Issa, though, is determined to stick it out, even after his mysterious discovery from the deep lands him in trouble with the gendarmes.
The Nasser brothers depict life in Gaza with a critical and satirical eye, especially when it comes to the strip’s authority figures. A police official throws his weight around in an arbitrary and self-serving way, and at one point the military proudly displays a new rocket in a scene hilariously loaded with phallic symbolism.
As for the looming relationship at the center of the tale, it’s portrayed with such charm by Daw’s determined but awkward Issa and Abbass’s secretly amused Siham that viewers won’t mind the glacial pace at which it develops. Anyway, despite its cheeky title, the film isn’t really about romance as much as it’s about standing up to society’s limitations and finding the space to live and enjoy one’s life.
Rating: 4½ stars (out of 5)
Gaza Mon Amour opens Nov. 5 at select theaters and through VOD outlets.