I finally found a copy of Houria (Hattab, 2010) which was one of the shorts mentioned in a paper on Palestinian cinema that I read a while ago.
It’s described in Queer/Palestinian Cinema: A Critical Conversation on Palestinian Queer and Women’s Filmmaking (Jankovic & Awad, 2012):
Images of a mermaid Hattab sprawled at the shore- line of the former Palestinian town of Manshiye — an area between present- day Tel Aviv and Jaffa’s Old City that was destroyed in — are interwoven with Hattab’s aunt’s story of her family’s dispersion during al nakba (the catastophe), which created the Israeli state through the displacement and near-destruction of Palestinian society […]Throughout Houria, a queer and feminist perspective reframes a predominantly masculinist narrative of Palestinian national loss and struggle for return through the emphasis on listening to Hattab’s aunt’s voice. Similarly, Hattab performs a kind of in- between state — queerly embodied as neither male nor female, human nor fish, and positioned between the resort beaches of Tel Aviv and the shores of the Old City of Jaffa. (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p140)
What interested me was the unconventional narrative; the juxtaposition of the reportage style interview with the surreal footage of Hattab at the beach. We are invited to question how these two scenes are connected, and how they connect to the third scene in the tattoo parlour.
The conversation with Hattab’s aunt revolves around memory and history (both of which are key to the Palestinian psyche). She reminisces about her family and how they had to flee, presumably in the 1948 exodus. Using his aunt as a lens, Hattab magnifies the Palestinian imperative to share their story. She mourns the death of her father’s memories, lamenting that “after my father died there was no one left to tell me, he was the only one who told me these stories, since his death the stories about the past were cut off (Hattab, 2010)”. And she bemoans the obliteration of her culture from public record, “at school they taught us nothing about the history of Palestine, they even erased the word “Palestine” (Hattab, 2010)”. The compelling instinct to retain and spread the Palestinian story is the key theme of Palestinian cinema, which makes Hattab’s juxtaposition of it here with his seaside scene even more intriguing.
It’s also notable that Hattab sets his surreal scene by the sea. It’s a natural barrier which bars escape; and one that’s been used as a non-place and a representation of transience in a in cinema across the globe.
Hattab, R., (2010), Houria, [film]
Jankovic, C. & Awad, N., (2012), Queer/Palestinian Cinema: A Critical Conversation on Palestinian Queer and Women’s Filmmaking, Camera Obscura 80, 27 (2), pp. 134-144