What begins as an extramarital affair between a Jewish Israeli café owner and a Palestinian deliveryman has dire consequences in the film “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem.” Set in politically and culturally divided Jerusalem, it may evoke a “Romeo and Juliet” star-crossed romance but plays like a chilling cautionary tale.
“I’m not a fan of romanticized narratives about Palestinians and Israelis coming together without addressing the oppressing systems that set people apart in the first place,” Palestinian director Muayad Alayan, who wrote and co-produced the film with his brother Rami, told the Journal.
Alayan, 34, said, “The film takes the audience deeper into the lives of this
couple as well as their marriage partners, showing the multilayered complexity of the story’s world that is Jerusalem — which to me is a main character in the film — with a specific political environment that exacts a much higher price for what would otherwise be an everyday social drama about infidelity.”
Stating that he is intrigued by the moral dilemma inherent in the story, Alayan said, “The film at its core is about power and privilege and how the crushing sociopolitical systems push people to act selfishly and hurtfully toward one another in order to survive and keep the privileges they are afforded, be they political, social, legal or economic.”
Filmed in Arabic and Hebrew and starring Palestinian and Israeli actors, the film posed “endless” challenges for Alayan. “Beyond the financial issues, which are worse than for independent filmmaking in most of the world, film production here suffers a lot from the political situation,” he said. “We were not able to get any permits for our Bethlehem-based crew to cross the checkpoints to the Jerusalem locations. To be honest, every day of production you never know if you will get through your production day or not. If you do, you count your blessings.”
The director, who made his feature debut with “Love Theft and Other Entanglements” in 2015, is now working on a haunted house family drama, also set in Jerusalem.
Having shown “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” at several film festivals in the United States, Alayan believes it will resonate with American moviegoers. “I noticed that some audiences could relate the story of the film to their own experiences with race, gender, power and privilege in the U.S.,” he said.
“The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” opens at Laemmle’s Royal, Town Center and Playhouse 7 theaters on June 14.