“In Palestinian folk tales the pomegranate is said to have a 100 seeds, one of which comes directly from heaven,” said Najwa Najjar, the young Palestinian scriptwriter and director as she introduced herself and her first long feature film Al Mor Wa Al Roman (Pomegranates and Myrrh) at its press conference at this year’s Cairo International Film Festival on 11 November.
The film, an entry in the Arabic film competition at the festival, showcases life in Palestine from a woman’s perspective, one that deviates from the violent surroundings and focuses on human sentiments–what Najjar considers the core of the resistance.
With an eye for detail, the film delves into lives entangled in the armed conflict in the occupied territories. Behind the gunshots and the Israeli occupation lie the magical daily rituals of ordinary Palestinians who strive to secure the olive groves that are their source of income.
Amid the peaceful olive tree branches, the sounds of folk songs and good wishes accompany Zeid and Amar as they tie their matrimonial knot at a church in Jerusalem. They are soon torn apart, however, as Israeli soldiers confiscate their land and hold Zeid prisoner for assaulting an Israeli soldier. Amar, a folk dancer, seeks refuge in her dancing as she persists in finding a way out for her husband while looking after their olive oil business. Amar does not fall into the prisoner’s wife stereotype; she is a normal woman who suffers tremendously yet whose ability to rise up and face her destiny on a daily basis demonstrates a profound form of resistance.
Amar is admired by a man who has returned to his home land to teach modern dance and rented an old fun fair for children to play in. She loves his capacity for dreaming and how riding on the big ferris wheel enables him to “touch the sky.” Unlike her husband, who is completely fixated on the olive groves, the dance instructor appreciates Amar’s art. However, months of detention bring Zeid closer to her. In the final scene Zeid goes to watch her dance and for the first time he loosens up, as she smiles back. Like Palestine, perhaps she needs hope and oil to persist.
From its plot to its locations, this film utilizes a powerful documentary style that effortlessly weaves real stories with fictional characters and unfolds tales of resistance without preaching or overt expressions of violence. “You can read it as you want,” explained Najjar to Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition, “but I chose to show the story of one simple Palestinian woman.”
Having attained her master’s degree in filmmaking from the United States, Najjar directed several short documentaries prior to this film, which was first screened in 2008. A resident of Ramallah, Najjar sought the help of numerous Palestinian institutions in addition to foreign co-producers in order to mount the production. “While creating this film, we tried to unite Palestinians scattered by the occupation,” she stated at the press conference.
Najjar drew upon the lives of real women to create Om Habiba, the owner of a coffee shop in the occupied land, whose wit, boldness, sense of humor and resourcefulness are a tribute to her real life sources. Memories from Najjar’s childhood are also depicted. The story of the boy who lost his family in an Israeli shooting incident and slept next to his mother’s dead body for three days is a real-life story of one of the director’s childhood friends.
As the name of the film suggests, the director subtly examines the bittersweet aspects of life under 60 years of occupation. From Palestinian street vendors who use the Israeli currency for trading to the checkpoints that monitor their movement and dictate the color codes of their identification cards, the camera strolls into the real lives of Palestinians, lives that are seldom explored in the media.
The film ends on a happy note, where the characters’ laughter lingers in the fair as they gather at the ferris wheel. “Our cause is about identity and homeland, but this does not mean it is not about sentiments,” said Najjar.