Amira: How fury over bloodline ruins a Palestinian family
Mohamed Diab’s new feature, Amira, is a story of hatred, and it shows how this can destroy a family in the blink of an eye. The film, a co-production between Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia presented in the Orizzonti strand of this year’s Venice Film Festival (1-11 September), is set in an unspecified Palestinian town and follows the vicissitudes of the titular 17-year-old Palestinian girl (portrayed by newcomer Tara Abboud, the most talented member of this cast).
Soon, we learn that Amira was conceived with the smuggled sperm of her imprisoned father, a political opponent called Nuwar (Ali Suleiman). Even though their relationship since birth has been restricted to short prison visits in company of her caring mother Warda (Saba Mubarak), daughter and father are still in good terms. And, luckily enough, Amira seems surrounded by people who love and support her.
"In the film’s official pressbook, Diab stated that the making of Amira was inspired directly from reality, as he learned from the newspapers that some Palestinian couples were able to conceive children while the husbands were imprisoned in Israel"
The turning point which opens up the story’s main conflict takes place when a failed attempt to conceive another child ends up revealing Nuwar’s chronic infertility. Amira and her mother’s lives are turned upside down. The family members start accusing each other, and all of the men around them become potential “suspects.” Despite Warda’s reluctance in disclosing the identity of Amira’s real father, the girl is determined to find out the truth and begins experiencing a turbulent mix of rage, fear and surprise.
In the film’s official pressbook, Diab stated that the making of Amira was inspired directly from reality, as he learned from the newspapers that some Palestinian couples were able to conceive children while the husbands were imprisoned in Israel. At the time, a well-oiled trafficking system allowed sperm to be smuggled out of the detention centres.
Through the choice of covering this very specific phenomenon, the theme of identity – whether this is a product of the culture we grow in, the family we live with or the bloodline we belong to – emerges powerfully and offers great food for thought, revealing how hatred is deeply rooted between the two sides of the conflict.
After many researches – spoiler alert – Amira discovers who she really is. Prior to her birth, an Israeli prison guard replaced her father’s semen with his own, and that fluid was ultimately used to impregnate her mother. Thus, the shame of disclosing publicly her daughter’s shared bloodline with the “enemy” forced her to keep the secret for 17 years.
The final sequence sees Amira searching for his real father in order to kill him. She reaches the Israeli-Palestinian border, leaves intentionally her boyfriend behind and, while on the run, she does not surrender to the Israeli soldiers’ orders, who kill her almost instantly.
Amira’s despair is certainly understandable and palpable throughout the film, but the conclusion’s rushed development looks still overly tragic. It is fair to add that Diab hints at the girl’s hesitation in pursuing her goal. In one of the last scenes, for example, we see her hidden in a cave next to the border and peeking at her real father’s family photos published on his Facebook profile.
Despite this choice, which clearly attempts to strengthen Amira’s complexity as a character, her final act of recklessness doesn’t come out as an organic (re)action and does not make justice to the few closed ones who, after discovering her real origins, still see her as the girl she was before and empathise with her misfortunes.
The final image suggests the spectators that her sacrifice transformed her into a martyr, a heroine. It is certainly a powerful storytelling choice, which partially makes it up for the imperfect construction of the final sequence and strengthens the film’s core messages on hatred, identity and parenthood. Besides, Diab’s movie is also rich in technical qualities. In particular, the sombre score composed by Khaled Dagher (Clash) and the intimate cinematography lensed by Ahmed Gabr (Clash, Cairo 678) tie in well with the fast-paced, agitated narration.
Moreover, the whole cast does a fair job in staging the portrait of a devastated family, forced to confront its past and question whether to consider more important its pride and cultural identity over the painful discovery of a girl who has no guilts. Here, Abboud’s interpretation stands out from the crowd – she evolves from a bubbly, carefree teenager student to a heart-broken young woman who, blinded by anger, cannot recognise herself and her dear ones.
Davide Abbatescianni is an Italian Film Critic and Journalist based in Cork, Ireland.
Follow him on Twitter: @dabbatescianni