Farha, the latest Netflix film, recounts the events of the 1948 Palestinian catastrophe
or the first time on mainstream media, Farha, the latest Netflix film, has shared the story of the Nakba, also known as the Palestinian catastrophe, when 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in 1948. According to the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the 1948 Nakba caused more than half the Palestinian Arab population to flee or be expelled.
The film is based on true events, not just in terms of the wider political situation but also the personal story of the protagonist.
Directed by Darrin J Sallam, the film, opens with a scene of a group of girls singing around a stream of water. One of the girls is seen sitting in the corner, and instead of participating in the group activity, she has her nose in a novel. This is our first introduction to Farha, and lays the foundation of her character.
A teenage girl, who has a mind of her own and wants to explore her potential, beyond the opportunities available to her in her current circumstances. We see her being vocal about wanting a school for girls where they are a holistic curriculum just like the boys.
Parallel to her personal struggles for a better future, there is a bigger struggle starting that she sees her father, who is the mayor of the village, talk about in whispers with his cousin and other men who visit their home, but doesn’t really fully comprehend.
Farha’s passion to get an education ends up winning over her father, who allows her to move to the city with her relatives to pursue her dreams. Her celebrations are short-lived as the war suddenly reaches their village and there is panic all around.
Played by Karam Taher, Farha is pushed in a car with her relatives who are fleeing the mayhem, as everyone is trying to get their families, especially women and children, to safety. Her father, played by Ashraf Barhom, stays back to help other people.
Played by Karam Taher, Farah is pushed in a car with her relatives who are fleeing the mayhem, as everyone is trying to get their families, especially women and children, to safety. Her father, played by Ashraf Barhom, stays back to help other people.
Staying true to her headstrong character, Farha decides to stay back with her father despite everyone’s opposition. From here on the reality of the horrors to come really hit.
This is Sallam’s first feature-length film and he has brought his creative prowess to the table, to tell the Palestinian story that goes beyond the subject of macro-political impact. The pre- and post-war transition of the visuals is amazingly portrayed. From the bright colours and scenic view of the village, which shows the stone houses that fit in the landscape like an image from a fairy tale where people go about their regular lives interspersed with a wedding; to the dusty streets, dim colour tones of violence and devastation.
A large part of the 1 hour and 30-minute film is shot in the confines of a food storeroom in Farha’s home, where her father locks her for safety as he goes to fight the invaders. The next few days of her life are largely shrouded in darkness as she is only able to navigate all that is happening outside through a small crack in the wall.
Most of her interpretation of the battle happening outside her hiding place is depicted through the sounds she is able to hear. Gunfire and bombs fill her hearing and the teenager is scared to death. The viewers are on edge wondering how far the danger really is, and if being caged in like this or being discovered will prove worse for her.
By the end of the film, we see the passionate child grow up quickly as a result of her experience that has blatantly thrust her towards the brutal reality of life that is going to be normalised over the span of years.
This is not a light watch, but it is a must watch as it tells the story of a people who do not get a seat at the negotiating table and only make passing headlines that reduce them to mere statistics.
Given the current global climate on the subject, this is a timely release. Hopefully it will help open doors for more projects that tell the lived experiences of the Palestinians and help create awareness for a larger audience. The importance of such stories is proven by the campaign that tried to stop this film’s release.
Farha is Jordan’s official entry for the Academy Awards and is currently streaming on Netflix.
The writer is a communications, public relations and sustainability professional. She tweets at @FatimaArif