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(Backseat Mafia) TIFF 2021: “Farha" Review

At the end of World War I, the territory of Palestine was ceded by the Ottoman Empire and governed under British Mandate. For three decades colonial rule was characterised by protests and violent clashes with both the Jewish and Palestinian Arab communities. When it ended in 1948, the withdrawal of troops left a vacuum in its wake. The Mandate envisaged the creation of two states but instead led to the first chapter of the Arab-Israeli war. This is the setting for Fahra.

Fahra (Karam Taher) is a 14-year-old who dreams of going to school in the city with her best friend Farida (Tala Gammoh). However, her father (Ashraf Barhom) is head of the village and under pressure from the community to arrange a marriage for her. As the British begin their withdrawal, tensions mount and fighting breaks out within the region. With the arrival of the Israeli bombs and the prospect of forced displacement, he locks Fahra in a cellar for her own safety.

Fahra is a wonderful feature debut from Darin J. Sallam. The almost idyllic beauty of the village is captured by Rachel Aoun’s sumptuous cinematography. As is the dangerous confinement Fahra finds herself in. Taher is brilliant as the lead. Circumstances dictate that much of the heavy lifting falls on her shoulders and she’s more than equal to the task in her first role. The assuredness of the direction, clever writing and attention to detail result in Fahra being tense and enthralling throughout.

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