With the opening film of the annual Boston Palestine Film Festival, Farha sets a high standard.
Set in 1948 Palestine and inspired by a true story, Farha (played by the unbelievably talented Karam Taher) is a bright, ambitious, and stubborn 14-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to go to school in the city. Her father, the village mayor Abu Farha (Ashraf Barhom) is hesitant, but eventually concedes his approval the day before the Nakba (the Catastrophe) arrives in the small, rural village. The rest of the family escapes (at least the original attack), but Farha stays with her father—who played an obscured role in the Palestinian resistance. Before he leaves to be with the villagers he feels obligated to protect, he hides Farha in a small cellar that he then locks from the outside—never capable of returning to free her.
The vast majority of the Jordanian director Darin J. Sallam’s feature debut assumes the perspective of Farha as she observes the violence of the Nakba through the cellar’s makeshift peepholes and cracks. With painfully claustrophobic close-ups and no other perspective characters after the film’s catalyzing moment, the camera allows no room for any missteps and amplifies her every muscle move. The exceptionally dark lighting doesn’t provide much cover either. It goes without saying that from the obscured cellar peephole, she is witness to gut-wrenching dispiriting acts of colonial violence—even the murder of a newborn baby named Muhammad.
The young actress playing the title character appears to be a first-time performer and can’t be much older than her character—a rather astonishing gamble on Sallam’s behalf to bet her entire debut film (and thus, career) on. And she doesn’t just win the bet: she found one of the world’s future great talents. I can’t overstate this: what Taher does with her Farha is nothing short of canonical. When Farha hits streaming later this year, her performance will be worth any rental price.
Farha is the Kingdom of Jordan’s entry as Best International Film for the upcoming Academy Awards.
dir. Darin J. Sallam
Screened Fri, Oct 14 at the Museum of Fine Arts as the opening film for the Boston Palestine Film Festival 2022.