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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Haifa

Film Review: Haifa

By Sonia Nettnin

Haifa ponders the past, in front of his home, a broken down bus. How long must everyone wait? (Photo courtesy of CPFF)

After the Oslo Peace Accords, Director Rashid Mashawrawi explores the meaning of peace negotiations through a group of Gaza townspeople and the town’s fool in the film, “Haifa.”

Haifa is the laughing stock of the town, but he speaks sporadic words of wisdom about the Palestinian peoples’ reality. While he runs around in a uniform carrying a wooden gun he yells: “Yaffa, Haifa, Acka!” His exclamations call the coastal towns of Jaffa, Haifa and Akko. With a refrigerator door as his front entrance, Haifa’s home is a broken down bus.

Haifa longs for Latifeh, the cousin he was supposed to marry on Mt. Carmel in Haifa. Latifeh lives with her husband and her children in Beirut. Haifa cries that she promised to wait for him.

While he runs around with a dead chicken, he says to it: “Am I right, my soul?”

His flamboyant actions point to the bewilderment of the Oslo Accords. For forty-six years, the people waited for their right to return, but Oslo did not deliver it. Media coverage shows wide smiles, historic handshakes and affectionate gestures between world leaders. In the end, the final results of the agreements left many Palestinians perplexed and asking more questions about the political conundrum.

Abu Said, a man who sweats in the sun and heat every day, pushes his cotton candy cart around town. In the past he was a policeman for the Palestinian Authority. Regardless of profession, Abu Said waited for something better his whole life.

“I want something good to happen for everybody,” he says. His eldest son is in prison and his other son, Siad, who already ran from the police in the opening scene, has a bleak outlook on the current situation. He works as a garage mechanic.

While the sun beats Abu Said’s brow, he has sunstroke, heatstroke, maybe a heart attack. His illness leaves him bedridden and an immobile convalescent.

Despite the family’s problems, Oum Said, the mother, tries to maintain family stability. Before her son’s release from prison, she visits with several families to find her son a wife for an arranged marriage. Her thinking is that if he has responsibility then there is less chance he will be swept away in the political movement. Sabah, her daughter, converses with a boy who tells her stories. Her friendship with him is in opposition to the tradition of arranged marriage. Sabah loves her watercolors, which she uses to create colorful places that line her bedroom walls.

Amid funeral processions and political demonstrations people believe in their right to return to their homeland, despite the outcome of negotiations. People want self-determination and they chant: “With soul and blood we will free you Palestine.” However, Oslo did not help the people in their endeavor.

According to, it says al-Hayfah is the Canaanite Arabic word that means “nearby.” In the film, Haifa is always around the corner, yet he lives on the edge physically and psychologically.

Also, the web site also explains that on April 21, 1948, Zionist forces called the Haganah (Carameli Brigade) attacked Haifa. Two days later, they occupied it. In the film, Haifa is a prisoner to memories of his cousin who he thought would wait for him.
Mashawrawi explores the idea of future and what it means for people to have hope and perspective. His characters are credible because they represent typical people in their everyday lives. The creative energy Bakri infused in his character made it an impressive performance.

Even though Haifa is loud and colorful, he feels real because of his longstanding pain. He relives the past thereby confronting linear time with cyclical memory. While Haifa wears his heart and his mind on his sleeve, the other characters share similar feelings; but they do not express them in the same ostentatious manner. Haifa is a symbol of the townspeople’s collective disheartenment.

When an elderly woman tells a cab driver that she does not know where she is going, perhaps she speaks for everyone.


Directed and written by: Rashid Masharawi
Starring: Mohammad Bakri; Ahmad Abu Sal’oum
Produced by: Hubert Balf, Hind Saib
Editing: Hadara Oren
Country of production: Palestine/Netherlands/Germany/France
Year: 1995
Language: In Arabic, with English subtitles
Minutes: 75
Production Company: Ayloul Film
Filmography as Director Includes: - Arafat, My Brother, (France/Palestine, 2005); Hummus for the Feast (Hummus al-Eed), (Palestine, 2003); Ticket to Jerusalem,(Palestine/Netherlands, 2001); Live From Palestine, (Palestine, 2001); Season of Love, (Palestine, 2001); Makloubeh,(Palestine, 2000); Out Of Focus, Documentary (Palestine, 2000); Behind The Walls, (Palestine, 1999); Tension, (Palestine, 1998); Rabab, (Palestine, 1997); One Step and Another, (Palestine, 1996); Waiting (Intizar) (Palestine, 1995) Haifa, Curfew, (Palestine, 1993); Long Days in Gaza, (Palestine, 1991); Dar O Dour, (Palestine, 1991); The Shelter, (Palestine, 1989); Travel Document, (Palestine, 1986).


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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