The Reports on Sarah and Saleem
Sivane Kretchner, Adeeb Safadi
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…an insightful and well-acted drama that draws you in without having to settle on either side of its socio-political backdrop.
Directed by Palestinian filmmaker Muayad Alayan, we follow the ill-fated affair between Sarah (Sivane Kretchner), an Israeli café owner from West Jerusalem and Saleem (Adeeb Safadi), a Palestinian delivery driver from East Jerusalem.
After a tryst at a bar in Bethlehem brings them to the attention of security services, their relationship is mistaken for espionage and Saleem is arrested. While his pregnant wife races to find answers, Sarah contemplates telling the truth; the consequences of which would clear Saleem’s name but also vilify her as a traitor in the eyes of her military husband and conservative community.
Inspired by true events, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem gives a refreshing and vicarious look at two families in contemporary Israel – a part of the world that is often reported in the media for its conflicts. From geography to religion, Sarah and Saleem’s relationship is dangerous in practically every way imaginable. This is exemplified in a scene where Sarah confides in a co-worker about her affair and is met with immediate forgiveness. Yet when Sarah divulges that he was Palestinian and not Israeli, her friend is disgusted. Because in her eyes, the crime is more a concern of identity than it is of adultery.
What’s also interesting is that the film begins in media res and never determines the motivation behind the affair. For Saleem, perhaps it was a distraction from his working-class job and impending fatherhood. For Sarah, who mentions her business failing twice, it could be a means of escaping the shadow of her husband’s burgeoning career. Instead Alayan – whose brother, Rami Musa Alayan, also wrote the screenplay – looks at the ethical and political ramifications of the affair, with the “reports” in its title referring to the numerous cover-ups and accounts that permeate the story.
As the second half of the film turns into more of a legal drama, we move away from Safadi’s helpless Saleem to focus on the morally-concerned Sarah and their respective spouses. Maisa Abd Eihadi gives an earnest performance as Saleem’s wife, who carries out her own detective work in hopes of clearing her cheating husband from a mistaken political crime. Just as good is Isahai Golan, playing Sarah’s ambitious Israeli army husband – unafraid of employing any means necessary to preserve his family and position.
From lingering shots over Saleem’s shoulder, as he gazes over Jerusalem’s settlements, to glimpses of the Israeli West Bank wall when Sarah rides in the back of his van at night, the hand-held camerawork captures the partition and unrest of its characters and environment.
Despite wearing a little towards the end of its running time, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem is an insightful and well-acted drama that draws you in without having to settle on either side of its socio-political backdrop.