“The Reports on Sarah and Saleem,” an absorbing drama from the Palestinian director Muayad Alayan, concerns an affair between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman and how outsiders misinterpret their efforts to cover for their infidelity.
This smartly structured film begins by placing the viewer in that position of ignorance: Saleem (Adeeb Safadi) is arrested in his home in East Jerusalem and questioned about the woman he “recruited.” The movie then flashes back to explain what has happened — but not all the way back.
When we first see Saleem and Sarah (Sivane Kretchner) together, their affair is already in progress. Every day, he makes deliveries to the cafe she owns. (A co-worker is perplexed that she gives him free coffee.) They meet some nights for sex in his van, an arrangement that becomes riskier after she rides with him into the West Bank, and he invites her for a drink.
The potential scandal of romance between an Israeli and a Palestinian is only one reason they can’t be seen. The film gradually brings Saleem’s pregnant wife (Maisa Abd Elhadi) and Sarah’s husband (Ishai Golan), a colonel in the Israeli military, closer to the truth, even as it shows how suspicion and bureaucracy raise the political stakes for all involved.
The lovers’ relative guilt looks different inside and outside their homes. Alayan’s light directorial touch can make the storytelling seem overly straightforward. But his tight control over the proceedings becomes clear in a closing shot that elegantly encapsulates the film’s complexities.
The Reports on Sarah and Saleem
Not rated. In Arabic, English and Hebrew, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes.