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article imageReview: TIFF 2015 — ‘Dégradé’ portrays Gaza from a female point of view Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 21, 2015 in Entertainment
‘Dégradé’ is an intense drama that unfolds within the confines of a Gaza hair salon while a police standoff outside threatens their already precarious safety.
While theatre and cinema are related, it can be challenging to apply the rules of one medium to the other — though not impossible. In many ways, the stage has more limitations than film. However, those restrictions can be creatively applied to a movie in a manner that shapes its characters interactions with the world. Not necessarily just for an adaptation of a play, one can construct an original script that is similarly controlled. Results vary, but can be very stimulating. The action of Dégradé is almost entirely confined to a single room with a war unfolding beyond its doors.
Christine (Victoria Balitska) can only open her Gaza Strip salon every other day when the area is designated to receive power. Today her sweltering shop is overflowing with customers, including a bride-to-be and her relatives; a pregnant woman; a devout Muslim; a cranky divorcee; and a talkative woman who enjoys drug-laced lollipops. However their pampering is put on hold when a battle breaks out across the street between a gangster and the police over a stolen lion. This hostile situation leads to a loss of electricity, rising tension and political debates amongst the imprisoned women.
Within this microcosm is an assortment of opinions and experiences, but all from a female point of view. Away from the watchful eyes of the men in their lives, the women remove their hijabs and speak freely about the state of affairs, their marriages and each other. In spite of the gunfire beyond the flimsy façade that provides a false sense of protection, they demonstrate their strength and tolerance for the everyday violence and threats. However, this should not be mistaken with acceptance as it’s clear from their conversations that they are not content with current circumstances. They bemoan the lack, unreliability and expense of resources readily available across the border. The impact of the war on their daily lives is consistently revealed in gas shortages, health issues and other restrictions. While most of the women are openly critical, they are also reserved in the hope that the situation will one day improve.
The film’s realism is surprising considering the film is co-written and co-directed by twin brothers and first-time filmmakers, Arab and Tarzan Nasser. While they undoubtedly draw from their experiences growing up in Gaza, they also demonstrate a unique understanding of women and their manner of interacting with each other. The dialogue is genuine as the women gossip, chat, joke, tease and argue for 90 minutes. The camera rarely leaves the confines of the main floor salon, only occasionally following Christine’s assistant upstairs as she takes turns ignoring and answering calls from the gangster under siege who also happens to be her boyfriend.
The constrained setting intensifies the narrative by ensnaring a lot of conflicting emotions in a room until they reach the boiling point. Yet, the ladies also prove they can put their differences aside when necessary. The ensemble cast has incredible chemistry for such a large group, flawlessly interacting with any of the other actresses as required and convincingly portraying the events on screen.
The film had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2015 coverage.
Directors: Arab Nasser and Tarzan Nasser
Starring: Victoria Balitska, Mirna Sakhla and Raya Khatib
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