Sarah (Sivane Kretchner) is an Israeli married to David (Ishai Golan), a military officer, who is having an affair with Saleem (Adeeb Safadi), the Palestinian who delivers bread to her Jerusalem café. Saleem is also married, his wife Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhadi) heavily pregnant. Needing extra cash, Saleem takes a job from his brother-in-law Mahmood (Mohammad Eid) making nighttime deliveries to Bethlehem and one night Sarah accompanies him rather than cancel their tryst. When Saleem defends Sarah's honor in a Bethlehem bar, the incident spirals into dangerous and unintended political consequences with "The Reports on Sarah and Saleem."
Director Muayad Alayan and his screenwriter brother and producing partner Rami Musa Alayan have crafted a tense, sociopolitical drama that raises the stakes of a casual affair to excruciating levels. An everyday occurrence, this case of marital infidelity stands to affect far more than the two marriages of its cheating spouses because of where it occurs, a situation that not only introduces a great imbalance of power, but one where misread suspicions could potentially result in charges of treason.
The Alayans open with a flashforward. We see a pair of male hands counting money, then brewing two cups of tea. Everything's perfectly normal until who we come to find out is Saleem opens the door only to be thrown to the floor and bound by Palestinian Intelligence demanding he tell them about the woman he recruited. On the other side of the city, Sarah arrives home to her husband and young daughter Flora to learn David is being transferred to the middle of the desert just as her café is beginning to take off, a stark contrast in domestic problems.
The filmmaking brothers never really get into the affair at the heart of their film. We see lust and companionship, but have no idea how strong the emotional tie is between the two, although we can guess what drove them into each other's arms. Saleem feels emasculated by his financial dependence on his brother-in-law despite his loving wife's support (he erupts when he discovers Bisan has paid their bills, softening when she tells him she sold a pair of earrings). Sarah acts submissive around her distant husband, her surprise at his accommodation of her business by
deciding on a long commute over relocation genuine.
Saleem's arrest is but the beginning of a slow slide into paranoia. An Israeli investigator, Avi (Jan Kühne), arrives to speak to David in private. Saleem is questioned about the 'Israeli prostitute' he was seen with in Bethlehem by the Palestinians while the Israelis jump to conclusions about his trips to Bethlehem. If at first Saleem's connection to Sarah is shrugged off by David as coincidence, an aborted visit from Bisan (the mother-to-be withdraws when she sees Sarah's daughter) is all he needs to connect the dots.
David wants more than a confession, contrition and punishing sex from his distraught wife, he wants her to condemn her lover with false testimony. Meanwhile Bisan, who has been meeting with her husband's lawyer Maryam (Hanan Hillo), watches from afar when she meets with Sarah to beg her to change her account. She begins to stalk the woman.
"The Reports on Sarah and Saleem" charts how a misguided affair becomes a matter of national security while also exploring privilege, power and gender and cultural disparity. The Alayans' drama takes place in a world where the simplest things can lead to outrageous complications and where despite the contradictions of their situations, the most profound understanding is between two mothers.
Robin gives "The Reports on Sarah and Saleem" a B.
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