Lebanese Ely Dagher’s Waves ’98 Wins Best Short Movie Award At Cannes 2015

Ely Makhoul Cannes 2015 Waves '98

About four weeks ago, I wrote about a very promising short movie by Lebanese director Ely Dagher which was nominated for Best Short Movie at this year’s Cannes Festival (link).

The short film is an attempt by Ely Dagher to come to terms with living and growing up in Beirut, while working out of Belgium: the movie is about his adolescence years as a Lebanese lost in his own capital.  As I said before, the trailer made it seem extremely promising: it was unlike any Lebanese movie or short film I had seen before, and I had high hopes.

Well, Cannes agrees with me.

Ely Dagher Waves '98 Cannes Win

Ely Dagher just became the first Lebanese to win a major award at Cannes. By having his movie win, Ely Dagher beat out seven other nominees from seven other countries that probably cared less about their production than the Lebanese government ever did.

By being nominated in the first place, Ely Dagher beat out 4550 other short films that were submitted from all across the world. And today, I feel proud and I suppose so should you.

Let Ely Dagher’s win be a testament to Lebanese talents everywhere who can make it big, like he did, when given the chance, the funds, the backing, when they are allowed to pursue their vision beyond the confines of a Lebanese society that is so comfortable in what it knows that it never ventures out of its comfort zone, a society that squashes its own arts as forever cliches and doesn’t let its own artists truly express what they can do in fear of not being commercial enough.

I congratulate Ely Dagher for winning. Here’s hoping Waves ’98 makes it big at next year’s Oscars as well. Hopefully it’ll become the first Lebanese production to win that golden statuette as well.

 

Waves ’98: The Lebanese Short Film Nominated For A Palme D’Or At Cannes 2015

Ely Dagher Waves '98

4550 short films from across 100 countries were submitted to the Short Films category at Cannes this year. Only 8 made the selection to be in the running for the Palme D’Or. And a Lebanese short film, Waves ’98, by Ely Dagher is one of them.

It has been a long, long time that Lebanon has had any movies featured this prominently at Cannes – Nadine Labaki’s offerings were not given the same treatment. This is the first time in over 24 years that a Lebanese film made the selection at Cannes this way, not since 1991 when Maroun Baghdadi’s “Hors La Vie” was nominated, and ended up winning the Jury Prize..

Ely Dagher is a young Lebanese filmmaker living in Brussels. As someone who was torn between life in Belgium and life in Lebanon, he ended up writing Waves ’98 as a way to come to terms with what living and growing up in Beirut meant to him. The work took two years.

I haven’t seen the movie, but the trailer shows it to be very different from anything Lebanese that has been offered to us in the past few years. In fact, the feel of it reminded me a bit of the very, very good (and very traitorous?) movie “Waltz With Bashir,” albeit with a different subject matter I’d assume.

It doesn’t matter if Ely Dagher’s Waves ’98 wins on May 24th at Cannes or not. The fact that he managed to be nominated out of 4550 other submitted movies is triumphant enough for him and Lebanese talents everywhere, when given room to grow beyond the confines of cliches that they are required to be limited to while trying to make it in Lebanon.

The nomination of Waves ’98 shows that when not limited by subject matter, and when not restricted by local taboos, Lebanese talents can make a dent in fields that we’ve come to brush off as beyond us.

I contrast this with a play I watched recently in Beirut called “Venus,” which had a brilliant script, beyond brilliant acting and broke Lebanese taboos like no other play I had seen before. Venus worked because it didn’t care about sensibilities. Waves ’98 isn’t necessarily within the same context, but it being different puts it in the category of works of art pushing the boundaries of our Lebanese artistic repertoire.

Instead of talking on and on about movies such as Vitamin, and beyond subpar offerings by Lebanese cinema in recent years, we should at least give the ambitious and talented Ely Dagher and his movie the credit they deserve for making a dent, for showing that Lebanese filmmakers can accomplish such feats.

Congratulations, and my outmost respect.

Check out the trailer:

The Fault In Our Stars (2014) – Movie Review

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There’s a multitude of ways that movie adaptations of books can go. They can span from an absolute abomination that gets fans of the novel rallied up against the atrocity they see on screen or it can be a very faithful representation that preserves the subject matter in the best of ways. The Fault of Stars is the latter.

Hazel Grace could be your every day 16 year old girl. Her time is filled with reality TV series, while obsessing and re-reading her favorite novel. Except she walks around with nasal cannula connected to a tank of oxygen that she carries around wherever she goes. Hazel Grace has terminal thyroid cancer with lung metastasis. The cancer is held at bay with a wonder drug in clinical trials – but it’s just that: barely held there, capable of getting her fragile body to collapse at any given moment.

At the request of her mother, Hazel goes to Cancer Support meetings carried out at the litteral heart of Jesus. She hates them. You see, Hazel Grace is not your average fictive cancer patient who relishes in the idea of telling her cancer story over and over again, while identifying with those who share her disease. No, she seeks normality in any way she could find. A Cancer Support meeting, however, is where she stumbles on Augustus Waters, an 18 year old boy with a limp. Augustus had been free of osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, for 14 months now. Full of positivity and always upbeat to Hazel’s constant demure, Augustus sets out on changing her entire perspective on life… even about the significance of a cigarette between one’s teeth.

As I said yesterday, it’s easy to dismiss The Fault In Our Stars as a tale for hormonal teenage girls. But this movie is anything but. It’s gut-wrenching, exceedingly tough to watch at times for an average viewer who has never been exposed to the atrocities of cancer that are represented in the most real of ways on screen. Sure, there are some inescapable cliches here and there, but the people I watched the movie with – not hormonal teenage girls, for the record – all found the movie exceedingly tough to watch. It’s not the kind of tough that makes you feel run over by a truck once the credits roll; It’s the kind of tough that – for a moment – gives you a perspective over how lucky you are to be sitting in that cinema chair, not with a nasal cannula as your main way of breathing.

The Fault In Our Stars is bolstered by a pair of great lead performances that elevate it to what it is. Shailene Woodley, on a cinematic roll with “The Spectacular Now” and “Divergent,” is an absolute wonder to watch on screen. Not many young actresses can pull off the role of Hazel Grace the way that she does. The nuances with which she infuses her character are A-rate. The camera lingers just a little longer for a lot of moments on Hazel Grace’s face – those moments help you encompass the scope of the emotion span that Woodley’s character is going through. They also help you make sense of how it is to be those characters, living those lives.

On the other side of the cinematic lead is Ansel Elgort, whose first major role came in the atrocity of a movie called “Carrie” and who also shared screen time as Woodley’s on-screen brother in “Divergent,” is a reveal. While most of us knew Woodley had the cinematic chops to carry on the role with an Academy Award nomination under her belt already for her role in “The Descendants,” I – for one – never thought Elgort would pull off Augustus Waters as well as he did. He spans the entire shades of his character throughout the movie effortlessly, from positivity to fragility, from strength to weakness. He balances Woodley’s act in the best of ways.

The movie wouldn’t be as it is without the decent screenplay that it has. Those who are wary the movie might have ruined the book need not be afraid as John Green had a lot to do with the screenplay at hand. Another entity that could easily be overlooked for The Fault In Our Stars is the stunning soundtrack it bolsters. I personally can’t get enough of some of the songs there – so make sure you give it a listen.

At the end of the day, The Fault In Our Stars is a movie about human fortitude. It’s a rare thing to have such a theme embodied on screen and this movie does a great job at it. Is it for all tastes? Probably not. But it’s also not as easy to dismiss as many would like to. The Fault In Our Stars the kind of movies that stem power from them being truthful, realistic and – ultimately – human. Go watch it. Okay?

8.5/10

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin’s Wedding Will Take Place in Lebanon

george-clooney-amal-alamuddin

A friend jokingly recently said that never since the days of the biggest plate of Tabbouleh have we had a surge in our national pride as when Amal Alamuddin, the international Lebanese British lawyer, got engaged to George Clooney. Well, ladies and gentlemen brace yourselves for another wave of Lebanese pride.

Amal Alamuddin, inspiring many other Lebanese women to set out plans to hitch Hollywood’s next eligible bachelor, is reportedly returning home for the “it” wedding of the year. At least on Lebanese levels.

Sources close to Alamuddin’s family have indicated that Alamuddin and Clooney will tie the knot in Lebanon this coming September. The location for the nuptials is reportedly Alamuddin’s own hometown, Baaklin. Apparently one can’t say Alamuddin isn’t proud of where she originally comes from.

In the very likely setting that this information turns out true, I wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that Lebanon would get an amount of international attention that is unprecedented. What’s even better is that the attention we’d get won’t the cliche war-torn nation of diversity where Christians and Muslims try to co-exist and of Beirut being the city of the Phoenix, resurrecting from its civil war ashes and whatnot. This wedding could be what we need not to remain a country where we ride camels and live in tents. Be excited, people!

So Lebanon’s ministry of tourism, prepare yourself. Your next set of ads will be about how this little country of ours is where George Clooney tied his knot. Lebanon’s ministry of interior, prepare yourself as well – we can’t allow any signs instability until September at least even if our parliament fails to get its stuff together and elect a president. Such irrelevant details need to take a backseat to the impeding mayhem of the big fat Lebanese wedding about to take center stage.

 

 

 

 

This Is How Noah Got Released in Lebanon

I didn’t know “Noah” being screened in Lebanon was a matter of “if.” Everyone just assumed showing it might be a big deal given Egypt and Qatar banned it. But Lebanon following the footsteps of neighboring countries when it comes to censorship is a rare thing, and Noah found its loophole.

I watched the movie yesterday and I have to say, I wasn’t impressed at all. Not every movie needs to arise from a cinematic need to have it exist but I fail to see any point that Noah can put forth. Perhaps Aronofsky was fulfilling his childhood dream of bringing his favorite prophet to life.

I don’t even get why this movie has been labeled as offensive right out of the bat. If anything, Noah is only Biblical or Quranic because the main plot of the movie (a flood and an ark) as well as Noah himself are Bible and Quran entities. Apart from that, the movie holds next to no resemblance to any form of scripture.

In fact, Noah probably has as much in common with scripture as Harry Potter: they are, at the end of the day, only tales of good versus evil centered around a character with troubles. In Noah’s case, he is such a troubled man that his entire demeanor becomes grating, often pushing you away from any form of rapport that can be established with the characters on screen, all as he tries to appease his creator to the best of his capacities, even against common sense.

At the center of the Noah are gigantic rock transformers-ish creatures that used to be angels once upon a time, flowers that grow out of dead land, forests that sprout in minutes, a creation sequence that is beautifully portrayed, completely useless fighting scenes, a lot of CGI and a lot of drowning. It was somewhat like Lord of the Rings, except nowhere near as good.

Having watched it, I have to say this is yet another case of people rushing to see a movie only because of the controversy around it with the movie itself being quite subpar. Was it enjoyable? I have to say the two hours passed by well enough. But it was nowhere near as engrossing as I envisioned a biblical tale such as Noah would be. And that’s a shame. Out of 10, I’d give the movie 6.

However, before the movie began rolling, we were met with a screen that stayed there for 2 minutes, making sure everyone read what was on it. This was the loophole that got Noah screened in Lebanon:

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Hilarious? Sad? Horrible? I don’t even know in which category that prompt screen falls, but it’s the reason we’re getting to watch the movie. So either await a download or go to your nearest theatre to make sure that the science fiction movie you are about to see has factual contents and is religion-friendly.