Farha, a Political Thriller, or a Girl's Tragic Story?
Fourteen-year-old Farha learns life's lessons in the most horrific way possible
Is Farha a political thriller? Or does it unfold, layer by scary layer, the coming-of-age of the 14-year-old Farha who learns life's lessons in the most horrific way possible. Cooped up in the forgotten pantry of her home in Jordan, she witnesses, through a small opening, how brutal and inhuman men can be against their fellow-men, women and children?
The film traverses both tracks by offering a detailed insight into the terrible politics of the killing of millions of Palestinians in the catastrophe of the 1948 Nakba (Israel's crimes against Arab inhabitants of Palestine). The events are seen through the eyes of this girl who dreamt of moving to the city and studying in a school.
She questions why only boys are allowed to go to school, and as girls go to school in the city, she tells her father that she too wishes to study in the city. her father reluctantly agrees, but then terror strikes, and dashes her dreams to dust.
The film tracks its steps back to 1948 to show what might have been the beginning of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Over 750,000 people were forced from their homes by the Israeli forces as they captured 78 percent of historic Palestine. Farha, is a Jordanian film that depicts the ethnic cleansing of Palestine during the 1948 Nakba, when Zionist forces declared the creation of the State of Israel as they captured 78 per cent of historic Palestine.
The late 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of political thrillers that actively reflected the backdrop of the Vietnam and Watergate Scandal eras in US military and political history. They presented a largely unvarnished view of the machinations and cynicism of modern-day political leadership.
This included assertions around the convergence of politicians and the secret services colluding to create a so-called 'deep state' focused on neutralising the will of the people and actively taking out dissent.
Films such as All the President's Men (based on the Watergate Scandal), The Parallax View, whose opening scene actively draws on the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, The Conversation and Three Days Of The Condor, took political and conspiracy thrillers to new heights of paranoia, narrative complexity and realism.
Farha, however, strikes a completely different note. Defined by its writer-director's feather-light touches, the sad story is told, seen and heard by the 14-year-old Farha. Her father, as soon as the attack begins, locks her up in the forsaken pantry of their house and goes away, promising to come back. He never does.
All this while, the Israeli soldiers have already marched in armed with guns ready to fire at the slightest glimpse of so-called rebellion. Farha is trapped for days together inside the pantry which is dark, dusty, dirty and filled with forgotten utensils and broken furniture pieces.
She relieves herself with great difficulty in one dark corner of the room and tries to bang the door to go out but the door is locked from outside. She is trapped inside with little water and no food. She tries to light the single lantern till the oil in it peters out forcing her to live in the dark.
She then discovers a small outlet she forces open and this becomes her window to the outside world. We see her physical transformation from a cheerful girl with stardust in her eyes, bonding happily with her friend from the city and scowling at ogling boys, to a girl whose lips are chapped dry from thirst and hunger, her eyes darkened with shadows underneath in fear and agony and her dress slowly reducing to tatters.
She also has her first periods that she discovers with shock and pain but can do nothing about. Her world now is reduced to watching the outside world through that very narrow opening in the wall with a glimmer of hope that one day, this should end. The ones outside cannot see her. Emotionally, she grows into a woman witness to the worst kind of live killings she may never have imagined in all her 14 years.
What she witnesses is so shocking that she throws up again and again on the floor of the pantry already dirty with urine and menstrual blood. She watches with increasing panic and terror, a bunch of Israeli soldiers capture a family of Palestinian refugees. It consisted of a man, his wife just delivered of her baby and their two daughters, killed in cold blood, the blood splattered on the stone walls. The baby is left to die because, as the leader says, "a bullet need not be wasted."
The most humane scene follows when the soldier vested with killing the baby, hesitates and leaves after covering the crying infant with a small handkerchief. Farha, helpless and trapped, fails to open the door and is forced to listen to the infant's cries slowly turning to a deafening silence.
We, as audience, are witness to the IDF soldiers who are killing innocent civilian refugees just for entertainment and fun as they are probably not even aware of the cause of their killings.
Ilan Papper, an Israeli historian, in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine offers an educated read of the Israeli attacks on the Palestinians. Papper's is "the first book to clearly document the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, of which the massacre of Deir Yassin was emblematic," writes Daniel McGowan, Executive Director, Deir Yassin Remembered, Hobart and William Smith College.
The Times Literary Supplement writes: "Papper has opened up an important new line of inquiry into the vast and fateful subject of the Palestinian refugees. His book is rewarding in other ways. It has at times an elegiac, even sentimental, character, recalling the lost, obliterated life of the Palestinian Arabs and imagining or regretting what Papper believes could have been a better land of Palestine."
Farha is Jordan's special selection for the Oscars. It is one of few feature films that covers this very disturbing subject - the Nakba. Cinematically, the film is a model lesson on a film with a humanitarian agenda in terms of its technical mastery and aesthetic excellence enriched by the performance of the main character of Farha.
Karam Taher portrays Farha with conviction. Her father(Ashraf Barhom), the leader of their village, is also very good and so is Farida (Tala Gammoh)as the friend.
The film is written and directed by the young woman, Darin J. Sallam, the daughter of a close friend of the original Farha who finally managed to escape to Syria after finding a hidden gun in a box in the pantry. Darin's mother lived through those events and had shared the story with her daughter growing up. But this is also the story of thousands of Palestinians, a story that has been erased and forgotten.
The cinematography is magical with its capturing of the dry landscape which takes different shapes when seen through the tiny opening of the pantry, the sunlight falling in from outside metaphorically like a ray of hope. It then filters in to fall on the sad, forlorn, surprised, afraid and tragic face of Farha.
The music is good but it deliberately has sounds of bullets, booted footsteps of the Israeli soldiers, something falling, cutting through into the silence of the pantry, broken with Farha coughing constantly from the dust inside the pantry where even water is scarce.
The editor had a magical time cutting back and forth from the pantry to the compound outside and back, effectively bringing into audiovisual effect the eye-witness account of a 14-year-old girl whose life changes from that one experience.