This film is quite a surprise for me. It happens that Jonathan Sagall, the director was a student at the high school I taught at in Israel and a good friend of my best friend there so I know him fairly well but have heard nothing about him since he had a small part in “Schindler’s List”. In “Lipstikka” he has come out on his own as a director and a good one at that. He also wrote the screenplay.
The film is about two women who meet in London and go over their lives and especially about an event that changed both of them when they were teens in Israel. Within in the larger story is a subplot but I will get to that. Sagall looks at the nature of female friendships and how they are complicated and how love and the past can damage a friendship.
Lara (Clara Khoury) is a Palestinian who lives in London with her husband, a Brit and her son. There is no love in their marriage but Lara is able to act as if all is wonderful. When Inam (Nataly Attiya), her old friend, comes for an unexpected visit, Lara’s life goes haywire. Something happened in the past between the two women and Inam has come to settle the situation and does so by starting what we can call “emotional sabotage”. The women fake being pleasant to each other as they talk about what happened to strain their relationship.
By flashback, we begin to piece things together but we do so separately for each woman as each brings up her memories. In this way, we get to know the characters and how they relate to each other and by the time the film is over we see that the women are nothing like we originally perceived them to be.
There are a lot of things covered in the film—abortion, mental illness, sexual discovery, infidelity and of course, the Israel/Palestine conflict. I found myself totally mesmerized by the film because of the way memories were revealed and the fact that the two women give fantastic performances.
We all know that memory is tenuous and often unreliable and it is even more interesting that the director, an Israeli, decided to make a film about Palestinian women. He says that this is a story about people and the fact that they are Palestinian is just something extra. This is not a film about war or religion as we usually get from Israel. Instead of political turmoil, we get a love story about innocence lost. It really makes no difference as to the religion or ethnicity or politics of the characters, it is about two people who were part of an unforgettable horror.
When Inam and Lara go back in their memories to that fateful day, many things come forward. They had been best friends since childhood and now they are uncomfortable with each other. Both women fled Israel for London when they were still teens and they assimilated ad left the Muslim world behind. Somewhere the women went their separate ways and now when they stand opposite each other, they are strangers but Inam has motives that we do not yet know.
“Lipstikka” is Hebrew slang for lipstick and here it serves as a metaphor for the loss of innocence. Here it has an even more powerful meaning. The girls stole lipstick from Inam’s mother’s purse and ran off across the Palestinian/Israeli check point and they were caught after curfew and without papers. Their memories as from that night and we see that the friendship cannot withstand the tension they feel and a future for them as friends or whatever is impossible.
Sagall is clever in the way he allows us to learn the story tidbit at a time. We learn that Inam cannot have children and that Lara cannot find a man who will love her. This is a “hard” movie and it is amazing just to sit and watch the facial expressions of the actresses. Truth is revealed at the end and I must say that the real star of the film is Jonathan Sagall for his intelligent script. You will think about this long after it is over.