* * * *
I knew nothing about The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, nor anything about its director, Muayad Alayan, before watching it, and half an hour in I grew a little nervous that gaps in my knowledge of the more intricate details of life in Jerusalem (and Bethlehem) were obstructing my ability to enjoy the film to its fullest. However, the filmmaking was solid, the acting convincing, the script intriguing and the milieu deeply compelling, so I told myself what I tell my students all the time – “trust the filmmaker” – and just let myself go. I had a tremendously rewarding experience.
That’s the thing about good cinema and good filmmakers. They can challenge you with worlds outside your own, and if their hand is sure, guide you through safely. Alayan is Palestinian (rather than Israeli), and had I known that, it may have coloured my expectations of his sympathies. It turns out that his worldview is broader than I may have allowed for.
Saleem and Sarah are on opposite ends of a divide, between East and West Jerusalem, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Arab, well off and struggling. Yet they have an extramarital affair, and the domino effect of repercussions it has are complicated, seriously dangerous, and staggeringly rich as drama.
This substantial film (two hours and seven minutes) has the heft and moral complexity of a smart novel. It shifts its point of view, moving from character to character, and, each time, examines human nature under the burden of existing beliefs and prejudices. It is told realistically, in shooting style (handheld camera, very little music) and performance, and every detail rings authentic and possible. I learned a lot more about life in Jerusalem today; I also had a seriously good cinema experience. Highly recommended.