I went a few nights ago to a special screening of Strangers in the Old City at the Church of the Redeemer, hosted by the Jerusalem Interreligious Young Adult Forum. The Forum is a dialogue group of Palestinians and Israelis, all in their 20s, which is run by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel.
About the film – this is a story of forbidden love between Eyal (Liron Levo), a kibbutznik, and Rana (Lubna Azabal) from Ramallah. They meet in Berlin, on the background of the Mondiale and a very exciting love affair develops. Rana returns home to Paris and Eyal follows her. In the meantime, war breaks out between Israel and Lebanon.
According to the directors who spoke at the premiere screening of the film at the Jerusalem Film Festival (July 2007), they went to shoot at the Mondiale in Berlin during summer 2006 without a script and had two amazing weeks in Berlin. Then a few days later, the 2nd Lebanon war broke out. They quickly put together a script and subsequently had two very difficult weeks in Paris.
Could a love affair between an Israeli, still very much tied to his country, and a Palestinian woman from Ramallah, living in Paris, ever work out?
About last night's event -- there was a lively discussion between the Palestinians and Israeli young adults. One Muslim woman liked the connection that was created between Eyal and Rana in the film because they related to each other as human beings and there was the possibility of hearing and understanding the other. A Jewish woman complained that the love story took place in a bubble and was unrealistic. Yes, another agreed, the lovers, Eyal and Rana, were closing their eyes to the political reality and we have an obligation not to ignore what is going on around us. Someone else argued that we must admit that we can't solve all the problems – just as they said in the film, "There have been two generations that didn't succeed in solving this." More importantly we must learn to see each other as human beings. Another commented that it could never happen here. But on the other hand, perhaps it could happen abroad, in a different reality. A Muslim fellow -- a member of the dialogue group that had chosen to show the film and have a discussion following it as their concluding event of the year -- said he had been against showing the film since the Palestinian woman, who was so open and free, was not representative of our traditional society.
Let us consider for a moment why the Israeli filmmakers chose to add to their narrative the story of a Muslim unwed mother, who fled from Ramallah to Paris because she feared for her life. Yes, it is true, she is not representative of the women in a traditional society. Having become pregnant by a married man, and unwilling to have an abortion, she had no choice but to run away from the strict society. So now she is living in Paris, without any papers, raising her child. She is in touch with her mother, but not with her father. When asked if her father knows that she has a child, she responds, "He knows but doesn't want to know". This cinematic comment on traditional Palestinian society and women's rights makes the viewer realize that a Palestinian woman might have another reason – besides the occupation – to leave Palestine. Just as the film is critical of Israel, it is also offering a critical comment about internal Palestinian society.
The ending is the strongest part of the film – Eyal leaves Rana and her son in Paris to return to Israel out of a sense of obligation to fight in the war – but does he?
Check out the short film, by the same filmmakers, also called Strangers (2003, 7 minutes), which was made prior to this feature film. Both films begin with a chance encounter between a Jew and an Arab on the underground. you-tube