Review: Salt of this Sea

Title card for 'Salt of this Sea' a film by Annemarie Jacir (Courtesy of Lorber Films)

Near the end of Salt of this Sea, Soraya, a 28-year-old Palestinian American from Brooklyn who has ventured to her grandfather’s house that was stolen during the Nakba, now owned by an Israeli, looks through the modernized building and in the cupboards of a stolen home sitting on stolen land, she comes across a mug with comic sans print stating “end the occupation.”

Salt of this Sea is an angry movie. It’s warm, bleak, tragic and beautiful. A desperate search for identity in a divided land. While it occasionally comes across as a bit too heavy-handed, its message is one not only worth hearing, but one that is a necessity. Not merely for those horrified by the current genocide, but especially for Canadians living in a settler-colonial state.

It’s complicated, messy, subtly confrontational and unabashedly political, thankfully lacking the excessive moral hand-wringing that comes with Western “fight the system” stories.

Salt of this Sea follows Soraya, played by Annemarie Jacir. Following the death of her father, she visits Palestine, a homeland she has never been to, but feels an overwhelming connection to. She arrives in hopes of gaining access to her grandfather’s bank account, which was frozen during the Nakba. What follows is a story that, while not as fragmented as other works focusing on the conflict, is still far from a traditional narrative. Part romance, part crime drama and part thriller, Salt of this Sea is as meditative as it constantly moves. Existing mostly as a series of low-key vignettes following a trio of young, desperate Palestinians over the course of two weeks.

One of the opening scenes in the film follows Soraya as she is detained and searched at an Israeli airport for being Arab. The questions they ask rapidly grow increasingly personal, inevitably reaching espionage-adjacent profiling, tracing back her race to great grandparents to capture a new security risk. A scene reminiscent of the obsession with ethnicity and scientific racism found in the U.S., fascistic self-destruction under the guise of homeland security.

Salt of this Sea is an odd film, trapped between emotional catharsis, romance, trenchant melancholia and intense systemic violence. A casual night-time car ride is interrupted by an IOF jeep demanding those inside exit and remove their clothes. Crossing a military checkpoint only to see men on their knees, gagged and blindfolded with guns at their backs. A man walks around the warm Jerusalem streets, armed with an assault rifle casually dangling by his side. Stolen history pawned in side street markets or resting in the rubble of recently bulldozed homes. There’s a constant, underlying surrealism to Salt of this Sea, showcasing a mass of land so divided, so propagandized and accelerated in its polarizations that it comes across as a dream state.

Salt of this Sea tackles a lot, from life in a police state to the psychotic racial laws and science that permeate Israeli society to the fact that Israel has quite literally removed the “right to return” from Palestinians who go overseas. It’s a sickening reminder of what our much-loved Western democratic values look like in action: Genocidal racism, propagandized people and the loss of future.