Written and directed by Dégradé filmmakers Arab and Tarzan Nasser, Gaza Mon Amour is a sweet, subdued love story set in present-day Gaza.
Issa (Salim Dau of Netflix’s The Crown) is a sixty-year-old fisherman in love with Siham (Hiam Abbass of HBO’s Succession), a seamstress at the market. As he tries to work up the courage to ask her to marry him, Issa’s life takes a complicated turn when he discovers an ancient statue of Apollo in one of his fishing nets.
While it felt entirely plausible that a fisherman could discover such an artifact, the scenes of scheming police and bureaucrats lacked the charm of the main love story plot. The rest of the film moves at a sharp pace, but these scenes felt bogged down and sluggish.
The quiet chemistry between Salim Dau and Hiam Abbass is the glue that holds Gaza Mon Amour together. Combined with understated cinematography that shows the beauty of everyday life in Gaza, their performances keep the film grounded through its more farcical moments. Dau, in particular, is unforgettable. He imbues Issa with an almost boy-ish self-consciousness when he is in Siham’s presence, but on his own, at sea, he is rugged, capable, and decisive. The contrast makes it clear to the audience just how sincere Issa is in his pursuit of Siham’s affections and links nicely with the film’s broader exploration of time, youth, and age.
Time, and the tension between past, present, and future, is at the forefront of the film. Issa and Siham’s unconventional love story is set against a backdrop of crumbling infrastructure and rooms adorned with worn, second-hand furniture. The film has a profoundly specific sense of place, yet it tells a story that feels nearly universal. In one particularly memorable scene, Issa recalls the story of his first love, a girl he used to watch as she walked along the beach. Rather than being seduced by his own nostalgia, Issa tells the story from a distance – laughing at his younger self rather than revelling in his old heartbreak. The scene brings together political and social critique, as well as themes of romantic love and relationships. Refreshingly, Gaza Mon Amour subverts our usual expectations: Arab and Tarzan Nasser show us a world where the young are cynical and the old, romantic. While never ignoring the political circumstances that shape its character’s lives, the film still makes the very deliberate choice to center their interpersonal relationships and desires.
Equal parts thoughtful, funny, and tender, Gaza Mon Amour will appeal to viewers looking for a love story that feels fresh and original.
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