Boners and Gaza aren’t the most obvious screen couple, but they have wonderful chemistry in Gaza Mon Amour. This film from brothers Tarzan and Arab Nasser humorously dramatizes a rare find from 2014. The headline-making event saw a fisherman retrieve an ancient statue of the Greek god Apollo from the sea. (There’s actually an NFB doc about it, for interested cinephiles.) The real fisherman naturally threw the artifact up on eBay. Inevitably, Hamas stepped in and confiscated it. This time around, however, the lonely angler, Issa (Salim Daw) doesn’t want money. When he hauls the bounty from the water, it stirs his desires.
The statue, see, is fairly well-endowed. Could Issa afford a stovetop hat, he could easily hang it and kill two birds with one stone by saving the modesty of women in its presence. Instead, the statue’s boyish vigour inspires Issa to act upon his impulses. An old man, he doesn’t want to be alone. The object of his affection is Siham (Hiam Abbass), a humble tailor in the market. Shy and reserved, but with a clear sparkle in her eye, Siham modestly resists the Issa’s flirtations. However, when we first observe her as she sips tea and people0watches in the market, she’s unmistakably longing for Apollo’s touch.
The Apollo’s appearance therefore strikes the war-torn land like the might of the gods. It’s as if this titan spurs the locals into action. Issa’s sister overeagerly tries to play matchmaker. Hamas officials, meanwhile, can hardly keep their hands off Issa. They trot him in and out of jail, punishing him for keeping discarded scraps he lugged out of the sea. They appraise his find with concerns only for its economic value and no mind for its cultural significance. Issa, the romantic, knows its price is beyond that of gold.
Daw proves a charming and unconventional romantic lead. His cantankerous demeanour leaves a barrier to be broken down as the spell of Apollo’s wand, or Cupid’s arrow, works its magic. Abbass is similarly joyous. She radiates warmth, but also a hunger for Siham to escape her daily repression. The star, best known for her stirring turn in The Visitor and showier, more glamorous role in Succession, says even more with the understated glances with which the Nasser brothers task her compared to the razor-sharp dialogue cut with thrilling precision in the hit HBO show. It’s also further proof that Succession’s showrunners don’t give Abbass nearly enough to do this season. Gaza, Mon Amour is a great showcase for Abbass’s talent.
In Time of Love and War
This sweet Golden Years dramedy unfolds a tender and reluctant love story. The strong sense of place hardly evokes rom-com convention. Gun retorts and air strikes pepper the soundtrack. Checkpoints, guards, and prison cells are more visible than restaurants, Romeos, and dance halls. Gaza is hardly the next stop on the Eat, Pray, Love train. However, the unexpected twist that the Nasser brothers give this war-torn section of the Middle East makes the love story quietly and powerfully political: Love finds a way.
Gaza Mon Amour is a warmly and cautiously optimistic portrait of a land that longs for love and peace. Apollo’s barometer forecasts a happy ending, for not only Issa and Siham, but also for the home they share.