18 September 2013 | guy-bellinger
Ambitious but disappointing movie debut for Hiam Abbas
Hiam Abbas is both a brave woman (she has succeeded her personal life through her own efforts by struggling out of an environment hostile to the empowerment of women) and a talented actress (always bringing sensitivity and dignity to the characters she plays). I was therefore more than willing to like "Inheritance", her first feature as a director, but, the proof of the pudding being in the eating, I find myself forced to acknowledge that, as a filmmaker, Hiam Abbass did not convince me. I am afraid she still has a lot of progress to make. Of course, Abbass cannot be suspected of insincerity or hay-making. The subject she has chosen to illustrate in "Inheritance" is doubtless dear to her heart and the context she has set it is one she knows all too well: Palestine, its state of permanent war, its manners and traditions. Likewise, the situation (before, during and after a wedding party) around which the plot revolves (Abbas is the coauthor of the script with Al Hlelel) is rich in dramatic potentialities: a wedding traditionally gathers relatives and friends with different characters and ideas, thus guaranteeing fine psychodramas if for some reason things go wrong. And of course things do get out of control since the central character, young Hajar (Hafsia Herzi, beautiful but pouting every minute of the film), who studies art in Haifa, has dared fall in love with Matthew, an Englishman she wishes to marry. She, who looked forward to breaking the news to the most tolerant of fathers, is upset when the latter proves hostile to her own wedding plans. And if it was only her father..., but it looks as though all the others are against her. A very good film - and even, in the best of cases, a masterpiece - could derive from such premises, alas the miracle does not happen. "Inheritance" is miles years away from Altman's "A Wedding" or Newell's "Four Weddings and a Funeral", to name only two among a long list of achievements. "Inheritance" really pales in comparison to the best "wedding movies". Among its many defects, Hiam Abbass' film proves too simplistic (there is a single idea throughout : Palestinians are hopelessly backward in the field of manners however tolerant and "modern" some of them claim to be), too melodramatic (woes pile up for the characters to such an extent that this writer wanted to cry for mercy but was too well-bred to do it !), and outrageously overplayed by the whole cast (which results in the film bordering on the ridicule). Another of its shortcomings lies in author's wish to deal with too many subjects at the same time (modernity vs. tradition, free love vs. forced marriage, motherhood vs. infertility, war vs. peace, domestic violence vs. respect for the other, Christians vs. Muslims, and I could go on...). In fact, like many others before her, Hiam Abbass has fallen victim to the "Grasp All Lose All" syndrome. Hiam Abbass obviously wished to brush an overall portrait of Palestine and its people but, in my opinion, her efforts unfortunately only resulted in a heavy-handed oriental soap opera. Let us hope her future directorial efforts will be more successful. Anyway, this clumsy first film does not plague her wonderful acting career in any way. Acting and directing have nothing much in common. "Inheritance" is a telltale illustration of that aphorism.