Any story involving or mentioning Israel, Palestine or Gaza would usually be approached carefully, sensitively and probably at arm's length by certain filmmakers. But thankfully, director Basil Kahlil dives head first into the genuinely funny, frustrating, observant black comedy, A Gaza Weekend. Perfectly selected to open this year's London Comedy Film Festival, the film is a fantastic example of how to broach serious subjects, with the darkest humour possible, plus a cast who deliver every single laugh.
After an outbreak of a deadly disease, the UN places Israel under lockdown to stop the virus spreading. Desperate and determined to escape to Gaza, named the ‘safest place on Earth', British journalist Michael and his Israeli girlfriend Keren, make an ill-fated deal with amateur smugglers, really market sellers, Waleed and Emad. But one mistake after the next, Michael and Keren's plans are forced to change, especially with Hamas now hot on their trail.
Although the film is about the outbreak of a virus, the premise and story were created long before the global pandemic. The film is actually a future observation of how people would behave. There are keen observations throughout the film, played out for laughs, yet these are appreciated. The truth about what life is like in Gaza, the travel restrictions, having to deal with a communal cesspit (an incredibly disgusting and simultaneously amusing moment) are played as realistic comedy. But not all scenes can be made for laughs. The desperation of wanting to avoid a disease at all costs played against those who have no hope of leaving is touched upon and is needed to be said.
The cast read the brief and do not hold back, which is exactly what you'd hope for with a film of this nature. Each character is able to stand out and make an impression which can be difficult in an ensemble, even the smaller characters manage to make a lasting impression like the nosy neighbour, Amira and Waleed's mother who says what we're all thinking in her outbursts. Each character is funny and frustrating at the same time, except for the level headed long suffering Nuhad, Waleed's wife played by Maria Zreik. Although Loai Nofi as Emad, is probably the most memorable for all his ridiculous errors and over the top reactions.
The comedy beats and structure of the story do seem very familiar and slightly predictable overall, but the journey on how the characters get to their destinations and reach their goals is what makes A Gaza Weekend a fresh take on the black comedy.