“SALT OF THIS SEA” – A Review Of The Movie

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Image from https://palestinecinema.com/movies/salt-of-this-sea (accessed the 31/05/24 at 16:50)

Last week, I had the pleasure to watch the movie “Salt of this Sea” (ملح هذا البحر) , the first feature film by the Palestinian writer and filmmaker Annemarie Jacir. This powerful, intense and emotional movie is simultaneously deeply intimate and approaches a globally impactful matter, excelling in its writing, directing and acting, and was officially selected to the Cannes International Film Festival in 2008. 

The movie starts with real footage from the Nakba (meaning “catastrophe” in arab), which refers to the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, which included mass killing, violent displacement of more than 80% of the population and destruction of land and property, as shown in the beginning of “Salt of this Sea”, where we see the violence of war tanks bulldozing buildings, bombings and the forced exile of palestinians. This historical footage is vital to set the tone of the movie, as well as give us a background to the life and journey of our protagonist. Played by Suheir Hammad, Soraya harbors the dream of returning to the land of her family, which were made refugees during the Nakba, and be in closer contact to her roots, getting to have a “glimpse” of the life she should have had in the place she should have growed up in. 

We first follow the protagonist, as she is stopped at an Israeli airport security and continuously asked repetitive and invasive questions by the airport workers. Although she carries a U.S passport, her last name being Arabic, her parents being Lebanese and her grandfather Palestinian, she becomes a target. They tirelessly pester her with questions regarding her religion, the origin of her last name, her reason for the trip, how she could afford the trip, the personal life of her family, where she was staying as well as personal questions regarding her friend she was gonna stay with, going as far as making fun of her, until she gets rightfully irritated and replies – “What are you trying to say?/ How many times are you going to ask the same question?”. They then proceed to search her in an extremely invasive way, searching her luggage as well as damaging her belongings and forcing her to take off her undergarments.

Soraya finally manages to get out and goes to meet her friend, starting her journey to her homeland. This movie has a striking force in how it depicts the emotional return to a homeland one has never been to.

The second reason for Soraya’s trip, is to get the heritage that her grandfather left her that is currently frozen in a bank account in his home city Jaffa after he was exiled in 1948. However, she comes to the revolting realization that she can’t access the money, the bank using the excuse that after the Nakba they froze the account, going as far as ridiculing her by saying: “Here you are, coming from America for a few Palestinian pounds, they don’t even exist anymore.” (…) “If you need money, you take out a loan like normal people” (…) “There is really no need for stunts or dramatic stories.” 

This movie represents the nostalgia and fulfillment combined with despair and inner rage felt by Soraya, a fierce and feisty protagonist, whose constant struggle we follow, full of daily aggressive and controlling oppressions carried out by the apartheid state of Israel.

Inside of the military oppression they face, Emad and Soraya still manage to find a feeling of freedom (that they have to fight for everyday). One interesting point about their relationship is that they have opposite driving forces, since for Soraya being in Palestine is a big ambition for her, bringing her closer to her roots and to the memory of her family, while Emad is doing everything he can to leave, with an offer of a scholarship to study in Canada, that he eventually cannot pursue due to being denied a visa. 

Another impactful moment from this movie is the return of Soraya to her family’s home. When arriving at the beautiful by-the-sea house, Emad asks the young lady that lives there if she knows who the house belongs to, she answers saying it’s hers, to which he replies: “Before that?”, pointing to Soraya. The Israeli lady invites them to visit the house, which they do. This becomes a very dehumanizing experience for Soraya, forced to see the place she should have growed up in without being able to, which makes her feel physically sick after the visit. She returns there the next day, and her friend Marwan advises her to ask the woman if she could stay there, to which  she points out the injustice of the situation by saying: “Ask her? Is this my house or not?”. 

Soraya goes up to the Israeli woman and says she wants to buy the house from her, to which she casually answers that it is not possible, since it is property of the state, and that it doesn’t allow to sell it to non-jews. The dismissive and indifferent way the woman treats this subject that is so significant for Soraya makes her confront her, giving us one of the more powerful moments of this movie, a speech that directly confronts the failure of the so called “moral neutrality”, as we see a woman equivalating being friendly and inviting them to visit as more than enough and an act of generosity, refusing to acknowledge her role in the oppression, to which Soraya replies by saying: “This is my home, it was stolen from my family. So it’s for me to decide if you can stay, and you can.” / “My father was supposed to be raised in this house, not in a fucking camp.” The Israeli woman answers by saying that that is history and is in the past, and they should forget it, to which Soraya corrects her: “Your past is my everyday. My right now.” Adding: “My grandfather laid down this floor, what does that mean to you? Their discussion escalates into a fight and they are forced to leave, going on to continue their road trip through their motherland.

One of the characters that serve as a metaphor for director Annemarie Jacir, is Marwan, played by Riyad Ideis, who in this movie plays a filmmaker, and serves as a parallel to the struggles and censorship Jacir herself had to go through. Marwan, who is also used as a comic relief, shows his filmmaking to the other characters, filming the Israeli soldiers pointing their weapons at civilians with children, and the war tanks. He also speaks about his desire to have freedom to film, either relating to the places, he mentions for example that he wants to film other cities, as well as regarding the subject of filming (for example: “I want to make a film about those tiny cages” / “How can you film that?” / ”I’ll learn how to fly.”)

On the credits of this movie, it is stated: “Special thanks to the Palestinian cast and crew, some of whom risked imprisonment for their participation in this film.”

In a interview for ÉCU, Arwa Damon, former CNN Senior International Correspondent, and founder of the non-profit organization Inara, stated a quote regarding her humanitarian work in Palestine, that also can be applied to this movie and its making:

“There is a quote by Marie Colvin, who is a very famous journalist, she is (…) one of the women that kind of broke the glass ceiling for all of us that came after her (..) And she used to say that, something along the lines of – Courage is not being afraid to be afraid-“
(“Bravery is not being afraid of being afraid”)

Visually, “Salt of this Sea” is a stunning movie, beautifully filmed and with a splendid script, paired with excellent acting. This is a movie that stays with its viewers long after the credits roll, exploring topics such as love, community, ancestrality, violence, oppression, apartheid, military and political persecution, cultural and historical erasure, and the underlying theme throughout the whole movie, Palestinian liberation. 

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