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  • Courtesy of Film Movement

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Maysaloun Hamoud’s debut feature In Between is not only entertaining and engrossing, but a cinematic rarity. The film is partially set in Tel Aviv’s Palestinian underground club scene, a hip mini-society that isn’t generally represented on film (or anywhere). Hamoud’s three main characters are young Arab-Israeli women, seemingly very different from one another on the surface, but each facing major challenges in a rigidly patriarchal society and, to a lesser degree—at least in this movie—as an unwelcome minority. The multi-layered narrative is buoyed by the charismatic performances of its stars: Mouna Hawa as droll lawyer/party girl Leila, Sana Jammelieh as soulful DJ Salma, and Shaden Kanboura as strictly observant Muslim college student Nour. Though Hamoud’s direction has a casual, verité-like vibe, the unfolding plights of each woman, especially Nour, add growing tension to the film. There are also flashes of levity in the drily humorous dialogue, especially on the part of the free-wheeling Leila.

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Leila and Salma, roommates in the bustling Yemenite Quarter of the city, are denizens of a hard-partying club scene featuring pounding Palestinian hip hop and a variety of drugs. A successful lawyer by day, Leila lets loose at night with a cadre of male friends, while aspiring DJ Salma humors her strict Christian parents by attending arranged dinners they’ve planned in hopes of marrying her off. A lesbian, she clearly has no intention of acquiescing to their wishes. One day Nour, the cousin of a third roommate who is off on a film shoot, shows up seeking temporary lodgings while her dorm is under renovation. A hijab-wearing good girl from the northern town of Umm al-Fahm, she is somewhat of a curiosity to Leila and Salma, but they welcome her. Engaged to the pious Wissam (Henry Andrawes), who believes that his wife should not work, Nour plans to teach computer science and is not entirely comfortable with their arranged union.

    At a party, Leila meets the handsome Ziad (Mahmood Shalabi), who works in film production, and the two quickly bond. Soon after, the smitten couple get high and spend an idyllic day by the sea. Meanwhile, Salma quits her job in a restaurant after the manager criticizes the kitchen workers for speaking Arabic as it might upset the customers. She finds work in a bar, where an employee is surprised by the fact she’s Palestinian. (In another scene, a boutique salesgirl watches Leila and Salma suspiciously. Though subtle, these are telling examples of the characters’ minority status in Tel Aviv: not exactly soul-crushing, just ever-present.) While tending bar, Salma flirts with an attractive customer, Dounia (Ashlam Canaan), and they too become a couple.

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Wissam, naturally, is horrified by Nour’s new roommates and tries to find her another apartment. He also wants to move up their wedding date. Nour gently pushes back on both counts and Wissam becomes enraged, believing she has been ruined by her “impure” acquaintances. In a tough, disturbing scene, he brutally demonstrates his power. Later Leila and Salma comfort the distraught girl and hatch a scheme to pry him loose.

    Though Nour’s situation is the most traumatic, the other women face major obstacles: When Salma brings Dounia to her parents’ house, to yet another arranged dinner with a would-be suitor, the evening ends catastrophically with Salma’s father threatening to send her to a madhouse. (Here’s a reminder that conservative Muslims don’t have a monopoly on intolerance.) And Leila, seemingly the most carefree of the three, soon learns that Ziad isn’t as progressive as he seems. In a way, his betrayal is the most dismaying.

    The movie ends on an ambiguous note, as all three women face uncertain futures. Each has refused to change for men or society, and for this they have our sympathy and admiration. The movie leaves us wanting to know more; I doubt that Hamoud is planning a sequel, but I for one would be thrilled to see it.

    In Between opens on Friday, January 5, at Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Landmark at 57 West.

    Marina Zogbi

  • Paradise is an interactive version of The Garden of Earthly Delights which was created in 2016 for the 500-year anniversary of Hieronymus Bosch’s death.

    This artwork consists of a curious animated short film that recreates similar characters and the landscape of the original, but represents the excesses and desires of modern society- such as sex, power, consumerism, corruption, entertainment, religion and food.

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    The original Bosch’s triptych includes God presenting Eve to Adam, animals and nude people. Studio Smack‘s version shows funny details with spaceships, Hello Kitty, Coke, headless fried chicken and fantastic characters. What the animation and Bosch’s triptych have in common is that you’ll hardly be able to take it all in. You can watch it for hours.

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    The characters are 3D modeled, geometrically incorrect and represented in a bi dimensional picture of historical context. They were rendered in Cinema 4D and later composited in After Effects. Each of them has their own animation loop.

    first-sketches

  • Courtesy of First Run Features

    Courtesy of First Run Features

    Around a decade ago, Jonathan Olshefski began taking photographs of a basement music studio in North Philadelphia, a hangout for local hip hop artists. The planned photo essay would reflect working life vs. creative life, specifically that of music promoter/producer Christopher “Quest” Rainey, owner of the studio. But Olshefski got so caught up in Rainey’s life and that of his family, that he wound up switching to film and shooting for almost a decade.

    The result is Quest, an intimate documentary about a working-class African-American family struggling — and ultimately coping — with crime, poverty and illness. For those who aren’t familiar with rough neighborhoods like North Philly, the film also offers a glimpse into an impoverished but tight-knit community that is both frustrated and hopeful about its prospects. Neither glibly upbeat nor utterly despairing, the film achieves a believable balance that seems to reflect the current situation of so many Americans.

    Courtesy of First Run Features

    Courtesy of First Run Features

    Quest, which opens with the 2008 presidential election as backdrop and closes with Trump soundbites from the 2016 debates, includes various events as time markers, including Obama’s second win in 2012. Though Quest, who exhorts his community to vote, is clearly thrilled with those victories and is suspicious of Trump’s promises to African-Americans, it becomes pretty obvious that the national political scene doesn’t really have much of an effect on the day-to-day realities of his neighborhood.

    At the beginning of the film, we see preparations for Quest’s marriage to Christine’a (“Ma Quest”), after 15 years together. We meet their young daughter PJ, an aspiring DJ, and William, Christine’a’s son from an earlier relationship. The father of a brand-new baby boy, William has just been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and must undergo treatment, with the support of Christine’a and Quest. She already has a challenging job in a women’s homeless shelter, while Quest delivers neighborhood circulars in addition to doing various household chores and walking his daughter to the school bus daily. He also hosts gatherings at his studio for passionate young hip hop artists, as much to keep them out of trouble as to give them an outlet for their aspirations. We watch him interact with one of his main artists, Price, as the latter is clearly still struggling with alcohol addiction despite his protests to the contrary.  Quest is clearly frustrated – he had high hopes for the rapper, which included his own success – but continues to work with him.

    Courtesy of First Run Features

    Courtesy of First Run Features

    From what we see in the film, the Raineys have an easy rapport with each other and with their community, for whom they are pillars—Christopher with his studio; and Christine’a, who is a kind of den mother (as she wearily testifies), hence the nickname “Ma.” Though William’s diagnosis is a hard one, the couple and PJ provide solid assistance, including care for his infant son. William himself is understandably less sanguine, at one point expressing frustration with chemo’s side effects and his inability to find a good job because of his condition. We watch the Raineys toil at their respective jobs, with Christopher finding release in the studio, where mentoring young locals feels like concrete action.

    When despite their best efforts, violence befalls the family, it’s a real test of their mettle. Due to their stature in the neighborhood, they have the support of many, including local cops, which helps them get through it. Ultimately,  the Raineys, along with the community, find cause to celebrate.

    As an engaging portrait of a typically atypical American family and their environment, Quest is that most successful of nonfiction films: a specific window into others’ lives and a cogent representation of a bigger picture.

    Quest opens on Friday, Dec. 8, at the Quad Cinema, NYC.

    Marina Zogbi

  • On Wednesday 17th November, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece Salvator Mundi, became the most expensive artwork ever sold, after being purchased for £450M during an historic event celebrated at Christie’s auction in New York.

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    The two hour auction took place at Christie’s with a total of sold artwork in the amount of $692 million ($785.9 million with fees), on 58 lots. The sale unexpectedly turned into a historic show.

    Since the auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen announced lot nine: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (circa 1500), it took 19 minutes to sell the artwork for $400 million ($450 million with fees). People clapped and laughed during the unbelievable show. The sale of Davinci’s painting resulted in the most expensive piece ever purchased at an auction and broke all the previous records in the history of art, including the $179.4 million for a Pablo Picasso painting at Les Femmes d’Alger in 2015.

    The crowd came to Christie’s expecting a show, and in the end they finally got history.

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    Salvator Mundi represents a secular image of a a serene-looking Christ dressed in blue and holding an orb. It also shows an ambiguous gender aspect about his appearance that makes it very mysterious and special.

    The picture is one of fewer than 20 works by Leonardo still in existence. It’s hilarious that the painting was sold by London’s Sotheby’s auction house in 1958 for less than 50£ when experts refused to believe Da Vinci painted it. For many years it was considered as the work of one of Da Vinci’s students.

    Salvator Mundi, which was painted in 1506, was owned by King Charles II. It spent most of its life in London before eventually ending up in the hands of art collector Sir Francis Cook.

    Finally the painting was sold this month at Christie’s NYC by Russian billionaire Dimitry Rybolovlev who bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million. The owner of the most expensive art work ever sold, it is not known yet.

    Nerea T. Ruiz