Overview: Three teenage girls from Jerusalem compete in singing contests in Istanbul and Germany. Neufilm UG; 82 Minutes.
Music: Hiba, Rita, and Tamar are three teenage Palestinian girls who live in Jerusalem and attend the Schmidt’s Girls College, a German international school, where they speak German all the time and attend music lessons. They are all incredibly talented singers and all love their music teacher, Mr Kronthaler. At the beginning of the movie they have all been entered into a prestigious music competition taking place in Istanbul and Germany where they will compete against singers from all over the world.
Story: The movie isn’t really about Palestine. There are maybe three scenes that give an idea of life in Palestine but they are quick and don’t give a sense of what it would be like to live in that situation. The problem then is that the movie isn’t really an underdog story. The three girls live comfortable lives, and there’s not a sense that winning the competition will greatly enhance those lives in any way. The only one of the three who has an emotional attachment to winning is Tamar, who is told flat out by her mother that there are no female Palestinian singers and that music is not worth pursuing. Winning the competition is important to Tamar, but the movie doesn’t spend enough time with this girl to make us share in her emotions. Our main focus is with Hiba and Rita, who sing opera and are amazing. Watching these two sing is the high point of this movie. It is incredible to watch these two pre-teens produce such beautiful, heartfelt music whether they are practicing with their teacher or singing on stage.
Overall: I was unmoved by this documentary. For me the best indicator of a documentary’s quality is that afterwards you want to pursue more information about the subject you have just seen. After watching Sad Songs of Happiness, I was left with nothing. There was no tension in the competition scenes, there was no sense of life in Palestine, and though the film was set in beautiful countries (especially Istanbul, but I am biased having been living there when this movie was being filmed) it never uses its setting for beautiful shots. In the end it is a sweet story about these three girls and their love of singing, but it needed more to be a truly entertaining movie.