Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Reports on Sarah and Saleem,’ ‘The Nun’ and ‘Privilege’

The Reports on Sarah & Saleem is courageous, tragic, and all too believable

Cheating on one’s spouse usually involves some calculated risks, but when you add race prejudice and politics to the affair things may get really complicated rather quickly. Such is the case in The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, a Palestinian drama opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, July 12.

If it’s not exactly the love that dare not speak its name, Sarah’s (Sivane Kretchner) fling with Saleem (Adeeb Safadi) certainly qualifies as challenging. She’s an Ashkenazi café owner with a husband (Ishai Golden) in the Israeli army, while he delivers goods from a local bakery to her establishment on a daily basis. Neither Sarah’s hubby David nor Saleem’s pregnant wife Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhadi) suspect a thing.

A furtive nighttime assignation leads to an ill-advised trip to the Occupied Territories — and an even more ill-advised trip to a bar that ends in a fight between Saleem and a lounge lizard putting the moves on Sarah. What would ordinarily be a forgettable testosterone tussle sets in motion two unfortunate reports to the authorities, which in turn spark a series of little white lies resulting in Saleem being investigated by both the Palestinian authorities and Israeli police and extreme embarrassment for Sarah.

As director Muayad Alayan noted in an interview last year, “only in Jerusalem can private marital affairs have disproportionate consequences that destroy people’s lives.” Muayad and screenwriter (and brother!) Rami Alayan have seen such events unfold in their home town of Jerusalem; though Saleem and Sarah are fictional characters, their experiences are not.


Making this film was not without its challenges: perhaps the only thing more difficult than having an interracial affair in Israel is producing a truly independent Palestinian feature film. Despite being arrested and investigated by the Israeli army, however, director Alayan and his crew members pulled it off against the odds and with aplomb: The Reports on Sarah and Saleem is courageous, tragic, and all too believable. Look for Israeli anti-apartheid activist Ronnie Barkan in a small role as Saleem’s boss.

‘The Nun’

Jacque Rivette’s La Religeuse (The Nun) is a sharp critique of Cathlicism

Such is my admiration for Jacques Rivette’s La Religeuse (The Nun, screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 p.m on Thursday, July 11) that I convinced myself I had a copy in my library. Alas, such was not the case, but with the help of the fine folks at PFA I was able to screen the film at short notice.

The Nun remains as magnificent as my rather faded memories suggested. Judged extremely controversial on its initial release in 1966, Rivette’s film is prefaced by a disclaimer suggesting viewers shouldn’t consider it a criticism of religion – not even of the 18th-century variety — but don’t be fooled. This is a sharp critique of Catholicism, beautifully shot and utterly riveting, despite clocking in at well over two hours.

‘Privilege’

Privilege: one of the most prescient of pop culture features

Finally, one of the most prescient of pop culture features, Peter Watkins’ Privilege, screens at the Archive at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 13. Starring former Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones as music star Steve Shorter, whose status as a youth idol brings him to the attention of a very jealous British government, Privilege features some terrific music and has lost little of its prognosticative power over the last 50 years.