Pomegranates and Myrrh is a Palestinian film which we saw last weekend. The film was shown by the Community Cinema in Colinsburgh, a small town in the East Neuk of Fife. I had not heard about the film at all and it was only the good thinking of our friend, Diana, who regularly attends the Community Cinema, that we found out about the film. She knows of my interest in all things Palestinian and invited us along.
I am very glad she did. Palestinian films are not shown that often in the UK, so it was with keen anticipation that we settled into out seats. Pomegranates and Myrrh was filmed in 2009 and directed by Najwa Najjar. It is set mainly in and around Ramallah, with a brief excursion to Jerusalem. The film recounts the first few months in the marriage of Zaid and Kamar. Zaid is an olive farmer, while Kamar is a dancer in a Ramallah company. During a confrontation with the Israeli army on his land, Zaid is arrested, without charge and kept in administrative detention for several months. In the meantime Kamar and the rest of his family try to ensure the survival of the olive farm, faced with confiscation of part of their land and the arrival of gun totting illegal settlers.
Kamar also goes back to her dance troupe, who now have a new choreographer, Kais, a young Palestinian who has returned from Beirut. He introduces new, modern sequences to the dancers. The title of the film refers to his new dance sequence. However I did not feel that this part of the film worked very well. The dance scenes were not particularly inspiring and the performance at the end of the film was too curtailed to provide a rousing climax. The reason for the dance scenes is to provide us with a contrast between the traditional and the new. The dance scenes also tried to convey the difficulties facing women in Palestine. Kamar has moved back to her parents home in Ramallah after an attach on the farm by Israeli settlers. She therefore spends more and more time with Kais, who clearly fancies the beautiful Kamar. However the only physical contact they have is in the dance movements and there is nothing in Kamar’s actions or words to suggest that she feels anything for Kais. A bit of a damp squib this apparent relationship.
However the strength of the film lies elsewhere. It is the other scenes which make the film worth seeing. Not that anything special happens. In fact it is the very ordinariness of life in Palestine which dominates the film. The joyful wedding celebrations, harvesting the olives, pressing the olives, selling the olive oil, meeting in a cafe, kids playing in the streets and backyards, with the boys wearing replica football shirts with Rooney or Ronaldo on the back. Just like children and people elsewhere. Even the dance troupe is nothing special. What we see is ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.
What of course makes their lives extra-ordinary is the ever present reality of the Israeli occupation. We see how this affects people right away, when Zaid’s car is stopped and searched en route to Jerusalem. However one of the great insights of this film is that the Israeli occupation is itself very ordinary. No-one gets killed, no tanks or jet fighters appear. It is just a never ending succession of harassment and humiliation. Everyday scenes of the occupation pervade the film – the separation Wall, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, confiscation of land, attacks by settlers, curfews, military presence in towns, the endless checkpoints and the petty bureaucracy of military rule. There is but a single moment of reaction, when the cafe owner, a widow, rushes out into the square in front of her cafe to confront the young armed soldiers, shouting at them to go away, to speak Arabic and to stop ruining her business. It is an amusing and at the same time shocking scene. The rest of the time the Palestinians just have to remain steadfast and get on with things. For this is the real message of the film, how Palestinians still manage to not just get on with life, but to do so with great dignity and some humour. Here we see Palestinians who despite the hardships of military occupation, continue to celebrate life.