Amidst the daily challenges facing Palestinians in Gaza – including millions living in poverty, lack of potable water, access to electricity for only four to eight hours a day, and high unemployment, the twin brothers Tarzan and Arab Nasser co-wrote and directed GAZA MON AMOR, a tender romantic comedy in the age of lack.
The film, inspired by a true story that took place in 2014, revolves around a whimsical fisherman named Issa, perfectly portrayed by Salim Daw. Although 60 years old, and living under rather harsh conditions, he retains his sense of humor and responds to authority with a playful demeanor. Forbidden to fish in the three-mile strip of sea as mandated by Israel, Issa is not one to play by the rules and trolls those waters sans a license, often pulling up a net overflowing with fish which he sells at an open-air market. He is single and is constantly being berated by his meddling, yenta sister Manal, played by Manal Awad, who insists he must get married.
In one really funny scene, she lines up about a half-dozen single women as potential wives. He takes one look at them and storms out of the room. Meanwhile, we meet Siham, skillfully played by Hiam Abbass, and her typical rebellious teenage daughter Leila, played by Maisa Abd Elhadi.
The electricity is turned off at the moment so each of them carries a flashlight in their humble apartment searching for Leila’s passport. Mom is a dressmaker and works in a small shop where she does alterations on women’s clothing. The directors illuminate poverty in a very subtle way and takes us inside Issa’s home where he is showering, except there is no water flow.
Instead he fills a pot with water dousing himself with the precious liquid. One day, he sees Siham waiting at a bus stop and is immediately smitten. He casually lights a cigarette and asks if she is going to the market. She is not talkative. A private car pulls up and offers them a ride, which they accept. He sees her again at the same bus stop on a rainy day and in a most gallant manner, offers her his umbrella. They begin to converse and when he finds out she’s a seamstress, asks if she could fix his pants. At first she is reluctant saying that she only works on women’s clothing, but his innate charm impresses her and she consents to altering his trousers.
Meanwhile, while fishing one night, he hauls in his catch and finds a giant statue stuck in the net, which becomes a sub-plot of the story. It is clearly ancient and very heavy. He somehow manages to get it into his boat, which is attached to his motorcycle and passes inspection by the Hamas authority. Our fisherman brings the statue to his extremely modest home where he ensconces it in his closet. Unfortunately, but good for the storyline, the male appendage snaps off which Issa bring to a local jeweler, who tells him it’s not worth very much but he would be willing to buy it.
Our protagonist says no and before you know it, the local Hamas police arrive at his home and begin to tear it apart looking for the source of the dislocated male member. Well, they do find the statue and throw the fisherman in the clink where he asks if he’s going to receive a reward. Considering he’s in jail on unspecified charges, the irony of that question will not be lost on you. Illuminating how prayer is integrated into everyday life, the officer in charge of the interrogation prays before beginning the questioning. Protesting that he’s done nothing wrong, he is locked in a cell where he has a dream of making love to Siham with an embarrassing morning result.
To get out of jail, he reluctantly agrees to signing a “confession” and to pay 5,000 shekels, after which he is free to go. Eventually, the mysterious statue is authenticated as the Greek god Apollo* with ensuing discussions by the authorities on how to best profit from this historic discovery.
Now out of jail, in short order, our smitten Issa immediately brings his trousers to the woman of his dreams for alteration. She asks what he needs done and he replies “they need shortening,” which eventually turns into a sight gag. Siham’s daughter, who wants to leave Gaza, observes her mother’s interaction with this gentleman and concludes that they are smitten with each other.
Our hero is ready to propose and goes to her home but freezes and doesn’t knock on the door. Eventually, however, he musters up enough nerve to try again and after dousing himself with cologne, and dressing up with his finest clothes, he returns to her house and this time knocks on the door. She lets him in and he blurts out “will you marry me?” They do marry and as they are about to kiss we hear a news flash about the Israeli Defense Forces.
To the brothers Tarzan and Arab Nasser’s credit, they do not take a strong anti-Israel position, but very subtly illuminate hostilities between Gaza and Israel through either radio or television news programs playing softly in the background such as hearing the sound of approaching aircraft. In one scene they show the Palestinians getting their first huge rocket which is being offloaded from a ship with a proud bystander murmuring, “An eye for an eye.” That moment speaks volumes about the ongoing hostilities, but remember, this is a love story, not a political statement.