For a film set in Gaza with an all-female cast, showing the preservation of life during war, the expectations were high: expectations that Dégradé falls slightly short of meeting, perhaps.
The film finds a group of women trapped inside a salon by the men of their neighbourhood as they wage war on the streets outside. Whilst the film depicts the struggle for normalcy of life in a warzone, the real battles are those within, for the preservation of day to day troubles within a country besieged by gunfire. The cast includes a bride to be (Dina Shebar) struggling with her tumultuous relationship with her mother in law; two friends trying to connect despite their differences, one a liberal, drug-using rule breaker (Manal Awad), the other a devout religious follower; and a lady (Hiam Abass) on the brink of divorce, battling to save her youth. They are overseen by the salon owners, a woman from Russia who sees the hardships in Gaza as being better than her life before, and her assistant stylist (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who is embroiled in a troubled relationship with one of the rebel fighters outside.
There are some predictable storylines here, but beyond that there are some great performances that carry the script’s shortcomings. Maisa’s study of the conflicted assistant, fierce in the face of her domestic abuse yet submissive to passionate love, is commendable. Abass gives a spectacularly believable performance as the aged hound dog chasing the prey of youth – not unexpected from the renowned Palestinian actress. Awad provides humour within the exhaustingly hopeless atmosphere of the salon as her carefree, liberal character pokes fun at the militant resistance, listing off the multiple rebel factions in a manner reminiscent of the People’s Front of Judea in Life of Brian.
It is a brave piece of cinema, though one can’t help feel a tad frustrated at it for falling short of the mark. It would have been nice to see the characters’ stories come together and affect each other, rather than just existing in the same claustrophobic space, which the directors fail to use to its full potential in the shots they provide. Nevertheless, Tarzan and Arab Nasser’s directing debut is an intelligent international tale ticking all the boxes of love, jealousy, despair and humour.
Dégradé does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Dégradé here: