Never since Nadine Labaki’s first movie Caramel have we had a decent Lebanese movie that doesn’t dwell on the Lebanese Civil War and Lebanon’s religious diversity. Some moviemakers tried to branch out and portray other aspects of society but their handling of the issue was either too shallow, too pretentious or downright silly. Until this came along.
Ossit Sawani – its English title being Blind Intersection – is not a movie about religion or the civil war. Thank God for that. It is the cross examination of the lives of three main people in Beirut as they go about key moments of their lives. Nour is an engineering student who is about to graduate when she loses both her parents in a car accident. She is left to take care of her elderly grandma with no financial means to do so. Karim is a young schoolboy who is the victim of maternal abuse and repeated child molestation as his body is sold for the next door grocer. India is a well-off western-mentality woman trying to conceive while attempting to give back to her community by teaching needy students at one of Lebanon’s government-run schools.
The movie is the story of how the lives of these characters intersect without them realizing – how the actions of one affect the other and shape their lives indefinitely. It is not a plot device that you haven’t seen before but it is the first time it’s used in a Lebanese movie. The scenes are jumbled and do not fall in chronological order. In a way, each character’s story has its own timeframe and you need to situate yourself accordingly in order to understand what’s happening.
Some of the scenes were a little dragged out or unnecessary. Other scenes felt out of the place but once you get into the mindset of what the movie is trying to say, it flows rather smoothly despite a few hiccups after an admittedly strong opening sequence with Nour going to the hospital where she finds out both her parents had passed away.
In a way, Ossit Sawani may not feel like a Lebanese movie at all because of what we have come to associate Lebanese movies with. But it is one. The city is Beirut. The dialect is Lebanese (I still don’t get why they feel like they need to give us English subtitles). The people are relatable. From a child trying to block out the sound of his mother having sex in the next room to shower sex scenes to subtle portrayal of the act of child molestation, Ossit Sawani is quite daring for what we have come to assume Lebanese movies are limited for. The extent that this movie goes to with regards to sex is proof enough that other movies such as Beirut Hotel were not banned because of nudity but because of their underlying political message.
Ossit Sawani is enjoyable enough for it to be worth the admission price but it eventually falls off very flat as the stories never seem to find a way to be resolved, open-endedness being another plot device employed. While that worked in Nadine Labaki’s Caramel as you felt the story arcs had sufficient material to feel substantial enough, the three stories in Ossit Sawani never feel complete or resolved, leaving you feeling let down as the credits start rolling.
Is it the Lebanese movie to bring the masses to the cinema? I doubt. At the end of the day, it attempts to be a gut-wrenching portrayal of modern Lebanese society woes but comes short. It tries to infuse a little humor here and there with some characters but the story is too grim to have that work as well. Ossit Sawani could have been much more than it turned out to be. However, it is a good sign that some Lebanese filmmakers have decided to branch out from the mold and actually do a decent job at it. Give Ossit Sawani a chance – you might be positively surprised.