Documentary filmmaker Mai Masri’s first feature, 3000 Nights, is a heart-rending tale of a Palestinian woman’s incarceration in an Israeli jail who is falsely accused of helping a revolutionary. The movie, part of the ongoing Dubai International Film Festival, is a brutal look at the way Palestinian prisoners are treated by Israelis. Never sensational though, 3000 Nights looks and feels real, and takes care of details. But of course it is, in the end, a prison drama, albeit set in a female ward.
Masri, a Palestinian who was educated in California and whose documentaries include Beirut Dairies, infuses his film with a certain sophistication that can only come from one who has spent time in the West. Crisply edited in the Hollywood style and tautly narrated, 3000 Nights begins in 1980 at Nablus in the occupied West Bank where one night a newly married schoolteacher, Layal, is arrested. She is accused of helping a young boy who is said to have carried out an attack on a military check post.
Watch 3000 Nights trailer here:
Layal, refuses to tell the court -- in spite of being asked to by her husband and a kind Israeli defence counsel -- that the boy threatened her. She says she helped him, a total stranger, only because he was wounded. The court sentences her to eight years in jail, where she even gives birth to a son.
In a powerful symbolism that is such an integral part of the movie, Layal refuses to terminate her pregnancy, much to the chagrin of her husband, and raises the child. It may seem like defiance, but actually it tells us about the importance of life -- a belief that in the first place stops her from falsely accusing the wounded boy.
In line with this, we also see an unbelievable change in some of the hardened prison inmates -- whose attitude towards Layal softens considerably once her child arrives. Everybody wants to play mother to the baby, and their maternal instincts push away all thoughts of bitterness and enmity. As a long-haired toddler, the little boy finds joy and delight at the kind of toys the prisoners make for him from rags, and at the drawings on the walls that transform the dreary atmosphere into one of cheer.
Another woman centric work at the festival was Danielle Arbid’s Parisienne, which follows an 18-year-old woman who arrives in Paris from Beirut in 1993. Her struggle to fit into a French way of life makes for a gripping narrative.
Lina is a lovely young woman, who starts her life with her uncle and aunt, but when the man tries to force himself on her, she flees. This is the beginning of her travails. Friendless and homeless, Lina somehow manages to get a bed for herself with the help of a mate at college, where she enrolls herself to study economics. But she soon finds that she is cut out for architecture and with the help of a kind professor, Lina switches streams.
And obviously, Lina begins to attract men, often the wrong kind. A rich cad, who abandons her on her birthday, a musician, who tries getting her into drugs and a rebel student leader. However, all these men help Lina to finally find her footing in Paris, her sexual experiences merely enriching her life, not destroying it -- as it happens sometimes.
Arbid’s work turns out to be a breezy fare, not one of monotonous sorrow. Paris plays a romantic background to Lina’s adventures, and the camera captures all this with gleeful gusto.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Dubai International Film Festival.)