A man and a woman engage in an extramarital affair, only to be caught and dealt repercussions that will change their entire lives.
It’s a simple premise that has been the basis of countless stories since humanity first started telling them, but director Muayad Alayan’s The Reports on Sarah and Saleem shares his version in a refreshingly honest way that is compelling and complex.
Entwined in this tryst are Sarah (Sivane Kretchner), an Israeli cafe owner, and Saleem (Adeeb Safadi), a Palestinian deliveryman. Hailing from opposite regions of deeply divided Jerusalem, their affair harbours more danger than most. After Saleem’s financial struggles result in him agreeing to smuggle items from Israel, logic gives way to passion, and Sarah joins him on a delivery run that triggers a dangerous shift in more than just their relationship.
Alayan’s film – based on the screenplay by his brother, Rami Alayan – doesn’t romanticise Sarah and Saleem’s entanglement. They may be divided by a socio-political quagmire, but the pair are far from star-crossed lovers. The love in their lives comes from their partners; Sarah’s husband David (Ishai Golan), an IDF officer, and Saleem’s pregnant wife, Bisa (Maisa Abd Elhadi). These relationships are otherwise stable and mundane – they are real.
Reports takes its time establishing the normalcy of not only the relationships of these characters, but the normalcy of the dislocation that defines their world. In the morning, Saleem watches the news as it reports on an operation by “the Israeli invaders”, only to be crossing the border in a truck filled with croissants a couple of hours later. And when Sarah divulges the affair to her co-worker Ronit (Rebecca Telhami), it’s the fact that Saleem is Palestinian that she takes offence with, not that Sarah is cheating on David.
Such dislocation results in characters conducting themselves increasingly selfishly as the film progresses. Here, the complexities of the story start to unfold, and the thriller elements come to the forefront. Pieces come together with real impact, never feeling melodramatic. That said, some actions in the final act feel conflicting, and the legal complications that define the second half of the film do sometimes distract from the heart of the tale. Still, these hiccups don’t significantly detract from Reports due predominantly to the magnificent performances of the key cast. Of particular note are Kretchner and Abd Elhadi, who deliver equally potent roles from two very different perspectives.
The Reports on Sarah and Saleem ultimately proves an enjoyable and necessary addition to its sub-genre. Grounded in reality, it denounces romanticism in favour of highlighting a problem that impacts not just two people, but two entire nations.
The Reports on Sarah and Saleem releases
in Australian cinemas on May 23.