Set in contemporary Jerusalem, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem follows Sarah (Sivane Kretchner), an Israeli café owner, and Saleem (Adeeb Safahi), a Palestinian delivery driver, who are having an affair unbeknownst to their respective spouses David (Ishai Golan) and Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhadi). After spending an evening out together in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, to where Saleem has been tasked with delivering illicit goods for his brother-in-law, Saleem almost gets into a fight with a stranger who discovers that Sarah is Israeli – despite her attempts to stay incognito. The authorities on both sides of Jerusalem are eventually alerted and begin searching for Saleem to take him into custody, a situation which is made even worse because David is an officer for the Israeli army.
It’s almost a contemporary Romeo and Juliet story for all of its tragedy and forbidden love, but the lack of motive for the affair on both sides leaves it relatively devoid of emotion. Both have a lot to lose, seeing as Sarah has a young daughter with her husband and Saleem is expecting a baby with his wife, and both seem happy in their respective family lives. The married couples have disagreements now and then, but nothing that would excuse infidelity. Consequently, it’s hard to feel sorry for Sarah and Saleem getting caught at first, but when national politics bleed into their private lives it becomes about much more than just the affair, and the film reveals its underlining political narrative: a criticism of the conflict between Palestine and Israel. The affair serves merely to stoke the fires of pre-existing inter-territorial tension, giving them a reason to reignite. The preeminence of national pride over personal morality is made glaringly obvious when Sarah confesses to her coworker, Rosit, who happily disregards the affair until she finds out that Saleem is Palestinian. She chastises Sarah and asks why she couldn’t have just cheated on her husband with a Jewish man as if that somehow would have been more ethical.
Despite its dramatic story, the film moves at a slow pace and sometimes feels like it’s plodding along with all the time in the world. It definitely overstays its welcome, running at a lengthy 2 hours and 11 minutes. This, however, is made up for by the captivating performances, particularly from Elhadi as scorned wife Bisan, the character who seems to suffer the most but ends up showing compassion and strength regardless.
When it comes down to the representation of the Palestinian and Israeli sections of Jerusalem, director Muayad Alayan dishes out criticism more or less equally. Sarah does technically get off more easily than Saleem, but she too suffers the consequences of her actions. The majority of the criticism, however, is not directed at ordinary people but rather at the trigger-happy authorities. While Saleem is, in fact, mistreated on the Palestinian side, it’s at the hands of the Israeli army that he suffers most; he receives the type of treatment that Alayan himself has witnessed in Jerusalem, which served as inspiration for the film.
Although it can get a bit confusing if you don’t know much about its political and geographical context, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem is a compassionate and educational insight into a subject that’s rarely explored in cinema.
By Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. An old soul, she is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Her life ambition is to dress like Phillip “Duckie” Dale from Pretty in Pink, her one true style icon. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.