The creativity and ingenuity that people demonstrate in a desperate situation can be a source of inspiration and in some cases, can also provide hope. In writer/director Rakan Mayasi’s Bonboné, a Palestinian woman visits her husband in an Israeli jail. As conjugal visits are not allowed, the couple are forced to come up with an unusual way to conceive the child they desperately want to have. Shedding light on part of the Palestinian narrative, Mayasi tackles a taboo subject with moving realism.
“It is so beautiful to defy occupation and resist with love and life”
Mayasi, part of the Palestinian diaspora and currently based in Lebanon, discovered this sperm smuggling scheme after reading about it in “plenty of articles” and decided to dig deeper with his research. “I think such a story needs to be told”, the director reveals as he explains the motivation behind his film. “the world needs to know that such a phenomenon exists”. The ploy alone already has great cinematic potential, but with the sociopolitical context also taken into account, the narrative suddenly gets a much deeper meaning. As Mayasi explains – “it is so beautiful to defy occupation and resist with love and life”.
In addition to shedding light on this novel approach to conception, which is little known outside of the Palestinian community, the film subverts expectations, especially for films of the MENA region. Steering clear of stereotypes and not shying away from the fantasy and eroticism of its narrative, certainly adds to powerful impact of the film.
Capturing a slice of Palestinian life on the West Bank, from a fresh perspective, Mayasi sprinkles the storyline of Bonboné with hints of humour to lighten the mood. This gentle touch of comedy allows the audience to focus on the situation, and raises questions more efficiently than a conventional drama that would keep our focus on the emotional level.
Though humor is vital in the film’s success, Mayasi finds just the right balance to inject social commentary into his story. From the strip search to the long trip home, the mundanity of the experience for the women who go to visit their husband is striking, yet, the female character is in charge in this story. She is not portrayed as a victim, she brings hope and makes the most from what life has given her, always in full control of the operation. Her resilience echoes all of these women’s and their will to keep going.
Adding to the film’s success is the magnetic performances of the two main actors Rana Alamuddin and Saleh Bakri (that some might recognize from The Band’s Visit). When the camera is on them, especially during close-ups, they carry so much with a simple look and the chemistry between them make them an easy pair to root for. With Bakri capturing the emotional distress of his character with sensitivity, while Alamuddin goes from numb to boss lady with a delicate fierceness, they both bring the layers of their characters and their emotional baggage to the screen with subtle yet extremely compelling performances.
Bonboné premiered at the 2017 edition of TIFF, and went on to be selected at festivals worldwide including the Palm Springs ShortFest, while also being picked up by the distributor Salaud Morisset. Mayasi recently shot a new short film and is currently developing his first feature.