The thing about satirising political tragedies is that it disrespects the status quo. There’s a lot to laugh about the occupation, its ignorance, and the way it undermines the oppressed. British-Palestinian director Basil Khalil does a spectacular job of laughing at the authority and making the audience laugh at the same time.
Based in the Gaza Strip, A Gaza Weekend, showcases the debacle of British Journalist Michael (Stephen Mangan) and his Israeli girlfriend Keren (Mouna Hawa) trying to flee Israel that has been inflicted by a deadly virus. Surprisingly, Gaza becomes the safest place on Earth as it is untouched by the virus. They are helped in this venture by Palestinian loafers Waleed (Adam Bakri) and Emad (Loai Nofi), who have to help the couple get on a boat and sail to Europe away from the dangers of the virus. It all seems like a banal money job until it becomes an issue of navigating the risk of hosting an Israeli in a Palestinian neighbourhood and dealing with the police along the way.
The movie’s major appeal came from the immaculate details of the neighbourhood where the film was set. Middle-class houses, sewage problems, and elderly people gossiping around, and a dusty storage room where Michael and Keren were hiding from the eyes of the police put the audience in a peculiar space of reality. Western filmmakers are usually obsessed with this sullen idea of the third-world, that they forget to turn their cameras towards the joyful mundanities of people’s lives. Khalil deviates from this narrative as he shows the everyday bootlegging actions of Waleed and Emad who sell cheap sanitisers, masks made of old bras, and create a fake password for Keren to facilitate the fleeing.
Khalil also humorises police corruption within the strip and the way locals deal with it. Waleed is neighbours with Saleh (Adeeb Safadi), a diligent yet power-hungry police officer, who suspects that Waleed is trying to hide something. The whole movie showcases snippets of the way he tries to use his position of power to get his household chores done by local workers, stops the traffic aberrantly, and uses violence when things don’t go his way. His authoritative figure plays a figure of authoritative foolhardiness as all his attempts to catch Michael and Keren are rendered vain. Khalil does an excellent job at showcasing the way Keren trembles and panics at any mention of “Hamas,” quite reflective of the conventional western trope around the so-called militant Palestinian organisation.
The women in A Gaza Weekend took the spotlight for me. Nuhad (Maria Zreik), Waleed’s wife, takes up more space later in the movie but spearheads the plan to help the Israeli duo get out of the country. She calls out Waleed and Emad for being inept at carrying out their plans and being fiscally irresponsible and creates a master plan to fool the police during their process. Zreik fits into Nuhad’s role so effortlessly, I would never suspect her of any loafery. There’s certainly the overdone humoristic trope of gossipy women in the neighbourhood and an overbearing wife in Keren, which constricts them to a stereotypical image and takes away from the progressive comedy.
The movie can also be read at times as a feeble attempt to reconcile the difference between Israel and Palestine, but the way Khalil showcases Gaza is a testimony to the opposite. By playing on the idea of Gaza being the “safest” place, he curates a satirical drama about how Palestinians survive in the colony. However, Khalil depicts the debacle perfectly with his hilariously imperfect characters’ bickering and punchy humour only some satire can achieve.