‘The reports on Sarah and Saleem’: a reflection on life’s choices

Muayad Alayan, director of ‘Al-Taqareer Hawl Sarah wa Saleem’

22/10/2018.- Working for the first time in West Jerusalem was a revelation for the young Musayad Alayan, who discovered that in this part of the city love affairs took place between people from both sides of the conflict. “I thought they were risking their lives”, said the film’s director in the course of the press conference held after the screening of his second feature in the Official Section of the Valladolid Festival.

His amazement at romantic stories between Jewish and Palestinian people was not the film’s only source. “A few months later, in 2002, the West Bank was invaded and the Israelis  had access to a large amount of confidential information about Palestinian citizens, like medical stories or academic transcripts. It made me wonder what would happen if the security forces in a police state would have access to all that information.”

This is how the film came about: this is a story whose most political reading raises the issue of how a regime can complicate the private lives of people at any one time. Sarah (Sivane Kretchner) and Saleem (Adeeb Safadi) did exist in real life, although those were probably not their true names. The affair between the Jewish woman and the Palestinian man, as well as the latter’s problems, were real enough, only they took place many years later following the discovery of certain documents.

Yet the film also lends itself to a much more intimate reading: how far can people go when they are forced to make unfavourable choices. From this point of  view, it is women’s behaviour that tends to be sounder, according to the Palestinian  filmmaker: “The story develops naturally because the female character often chooses to do the right thing in the detriment of her own interests. If you are not willing to act like that, you are not a complete human being. We men are often more pig-headed.”

Muayad Alayan feels optimistc about choosing an ethical course of action. “In the film, the characters end up by doing what the believe is right, not what society expects  from them, and things ultimately get better. When you choose to do the right thing, in the end  you always win.”

Palestinian cinema and social commitment

Although the story of Sarah and Saleem has an unquestionable social and political background, Alayan (1985) provided some additional reasons for the direction taken by Palestinian cinema in the last few years. “We thought that our side of the story was not reaching the world, so we tried to tell it by making more social films. In my generation we still feel that need, but we also make movies in order to contribute our own way of filmmaking. Let’s say that we make movies from Palestine, and not just about Palestine.”

Posted in 63rd Edition, Feature-length films, Featured Two, Official Section.