TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! As Farha opens, we see a group of young girls gathered by a creekside on a sunny day as they engage in merry banter. The camera slowly zooms in on its titular character (Karam Taher), her nose buried in a book, too consumed to be bothered with conversation. As they prepare to return home, the girls snap Farha out of her literature-induced trance, and she packs up to join them, but not without pausing to take a few extra pieces of fruit that have blossomed on a nearby tree. And in the very next scene, a title card appears on-screen: Palestine 1948.
A year after the start of the Palestinian Civil War, life for Farha and her friends is on a razor’s edge. There is family, friendship, and merriment, but life-changing disruption can take place at any moment. As Farha and Farida (Tala Gammoh) sit on swings, Farha discusses her plans to head to the city for education, become a teacher, and return to her village to open a school to educate the girls. Just as her friend is about to divulge her plans, their conversation is drowned out by the echo of a gunshot heard in town.
Once full-fledged violence breaks out, Farha is determined to stay with her father (the village mayor). In an act of desperation, he places her inside their home’s food pantry. From the meager walls of her room, we experience the atrocities of war. Screaming, gas, and machine-gun fire echo outside the slats of her tiny compound, lit only by cracks of sunlight and a gas lamp.
“A year after the start of the Palestinian Civil War, life for Farha and her friends is on a razor’s edge.”
Farha, writer/director Darin Sallam’s debut, is so effective because it views the conflict through the eyes of a child, one with hopes and dreams and has no role to play in the ensuing battle. It asks viewers to remove their preconceived opinions of the struggle and approach it solely on the human toll that results from living through such tumult.
First-time actor Taher has some heavy lifting in order to do so and rises to the challenge. We are alone with her through a large stretch as we watch her while away in isolation. Through the cracks, she also witnesses more casualties and tender moments, such as a child’s birth from passing villagers. In one particularly powerful scene, we watch her struggle to break out of her safe haven to tend to an orphaned infant left just outside.
The causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus remain a controversial topic among historians. While Sallam may be resolute in her recounting, she focuses Farha from the perspective of and the reverberations felt by her lead character. Farha is merely collateral damage and led only by her desire to better her education and empower others in her village with it. Her determination to survive, even as she witnesses the erosion of the very land she hoped to help, is inspiring regardless of the audience member’s perspective.
Farha screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…First-time actor Taher has some heavy lifting in order to do so and rises to the challenge."