Film Review: Farha, a film on Palestinian Catastrophe
The story of a fourteen-year girl living in a peaceful, sun-drenched Palestinian hillside village.
The movie revolves around the experiences of Farha at the time of nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe, when the Palestinian homeland was destroyed in 1948.
By Dr. Dushka H. Saiyid
Farha is a relatively short film of 1 hour 32 minutes, which is the official submission of Jordan for Oscars. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on 14 September 2021, and Netflix began airing it from 1 December 2022. It has earned several awards, including Asia Pacific Screen Award, the Dragon Award (Nominee) at the Goteborg Film Festival (2022), Malmo Arab Film Festival Jury Award (2022), the Grand Jury Prize at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (2022) and more.
The movie revolves around the experiences of Farha at the time of nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe, when the Palestinian homeland was destroyed in 1948, and the Palestinian Arabs permanently displaced. The resentment against the British is palpable when the British soldiers are shown withdrawing in their trucks with young Palestinian boys gleefully shooting pebbles at them from slingshots, while the feisty Farha and her friend Fareeda, also yell and gesticulate with some derision at the departing trucks of soldiers. It is a comment on the awareness even amongst children of the role that Britain played in handing over Palestine to the Zionists, and the resentment it engendered.
This is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl living in a peaceful, sun-drenched Palestinian hillside village. The film opens with captivating scenes of teenage girls plucking figs and frolicking in the nearby stream and waterfall, while Farha is immersed in reading a book. When Farha and her best friend Fareeda sit chatting on a swing near the waterfall, Farha expresses her desire to move to the city and study in a school, with aspirations to become a schoolteacher. She chafes at the traditional role of getting married and demands of the Sheikh giving the village girls lessons in Islam and teaching them the Holy Quran that the village should have a school for girls as it does for boys. When the Sheikh advises Abu Farha against sending her to school as she does not need any other knowledge besides that of Islam, the outspoken Farha darts out of her room and declares that there are other subjects to learn: “geography, mathematics and English”! With the encouragement of an uncle, Abu Farha, as her father is called, reluctantly concedes to her passion to go to school in the city.
A glimpse of Abu Farha is shown talking to Farha’s uncle, disconsolately discussing that they only have a few rusty guns and no army to resist the occupiers. A group of armed young men come to visit Abu Farha, but he declines to join them saying that his only desire is to save the village and its inhabitants as Palestinians from the middle and southern area of Palestine have already been displaced and made refugees. As these fiery young men are about to leave, he tells them that he’s been promised help with supply of arms and ammunitions and is expecting Arab forces, and he’ll be at the forefront of the battle against the occupiers when these forces arrive.
Farha’s dreams of schooling in the city are shattered with the destruction of the village by Israeli forces, while the loudspeaker screams for the people to get out if they don’t want to be killed. Chaos follows as people begin to flee. Farha is put in a car to escape with her relatives, but impulsively jumps out because she’s concerned about the safety of her father, the mayor of the village. He locks her in the store of the house for her safety and leaves, promising to return.
The mood of the movie turns dark and ominous as Farha is locked in the store for an immeasurable length of time and can only look out through a hole. She witnesses the horrors of an innocent man, his wife and children being shot, while a newborn is left to die by the Israeli forces. She eventually escapes from the claustrophobic and dark pantry when she discovers a pistol and shoots open the lock of the door.
It is based on a true story about a girl named Radiyyeh, who had eventually escaped to Syria and made friends with another Syrian woman, who was Darin Sallam’s mother. The story had left a profound impact on Ms Sallam, who is both the screenwriter and director of the film. Radiyyeh’s father never returned, and most probably died in the violence that ensued.
Karam Taher as Farha has given a riveting performance and captured the innocence of a young girl, who while still locked in the pantry, rudely enters adulthood when she discovers the dark side of humanity brought out by the war.
The film is strangely reminiscent of Basharat Peer’s novel, Curfewed Nights about Kashmir, its haunting beauty, its peaceful and rich culture, and then the ugly rise of violence and its brutal occupation by the Indian army of 600,000 soldiers. However, the western media remains silent on the violence, terror and persecution of the Kashmiris.
Courtesy: Youlin Magazine, a cultural journal of Pakistan and China (Posted on: December 06, 2022)