TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! A pervasive sense of “if you prick us, do we not bleed” humanitarian idealism runs straight through the heart of director Basil Khalil’s comedy-drama A Gaza Weekend. But it’ll take more than some singular acts of altruism for Michael (Stephen Mangan) and Keren (Mouna Hawa) to make it out of Palestine in time and alive.
The plan seemed sound. In order to escape Israel, which has become Ground Zero for the sudden appearance of a deadly virus outbreak, Michael, a British journalist, and his fiancé, Keren, an Israeli national, would meet up at a specified place. Then with fellow British journalist Jonathan (Yousef Shweihat), the three would be surreptitiously smuggled out of Israel and into Palestine, then onward to safety. But as is oftentimes the case with scenarios such as this, things don’t go exactly according to plan.
Jonathan abandons Michael and Keren at the first sign of trouble, leaving the two to fend for themselves with their Palestinian connections, Waleed (Adam Bakri) and his goofy buddy, Emad (Loai Noufi). Waleed offers up a room in his apartment to the two fugitives, much to the chagrin of his wife, Nuhad (Maria Zreik). Waleed assures her that their stay is only until he can procure a new passport for the Israeli Keren. But word has gotten out that the Israeli-Palestinian border has been breached, and two Israelis, potentially infected with the deadly virus, might have snuck into Gaza.
“…the three would be surreptitiously smuggled out of Israel and into Palestine, then onward to safety.”
A Gaza Weekend seems a little confused about whether it is a madcap comedy with serious underlining or a more dramatic film peppered with humor. The performances are, on the whole, quite good, although there are a few instances of outsized hamminess that lend credence to the madcap comedy theory. Sometimes Hawa goes a little too overboard into shrieking harpy territory, but that can be justified within the context of her character. The one person that is a basket case is Saleh (Adeeb Safadi), who becomes almost maniacally obsessed with finding and capturing the fugitives.
But there is a general good-naturedness about the film and the performances that bridge the chasm between the tonal confusion. This vibe makes the film very easy to digest. It’s definitely working within a sensitive and timely subject matter of the ongoing war between these two Middle Eastern nations and their respective countrymen and women. But the film somehow manages to work what is, in reality, a very frightening scenario, into a relatively light and breezy affair, even with the deadly virus subplot thrown in. This narrative sleight-of-hand can be attributed to Khalil’s energetic pacing and the lively performances he elicits from his actors.
While A Gaza Weekend is, I would argue, certainly leaning pro-Palestinian in its politics, it also doesn’t demonize the other side. The main characters from both sides are treated empathetically and without a heavy measure of scorn, which is refreshing. Khalil and Daniel Chan’s screenplay has a few good one-liners, mostly between the escaping couple, that make clear the semi-comedic intentions of the script. When Waleed and Emad are shouting, Keren thinks she hears them say Hamas. Michael tries to console his terrified fiancé and says, “I thought I heard hummus.” Earlier, when Michael notices a coffin in the storage area of their room, he remarks to Keren that it reminds him of her mother. Now that’s a zinger!
A Gaza Weekend manages the tricky feat of taking a historically hostile and volatile situation and creating a bouncy little story from it. Khalil does this without losing any of the gravity that we all know is part of the everyday for the people living through it.
A Gaza Weekend screened 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…energetic pacing and the lively performances..."