Caramel, The Attack, 12 Angry Lebanese on International Best Movies Lists

 

The Guardian has  published a list of the top 10 Arab movies and they featured Zeina Daccache’s Twelve Angry Lebanese on the list, with nine other Egyptian movies of which I haven’t heard.

The list’s author justified their choice for choosing the movie in it being deeply moving and full of humanity. I have to wonder why that movie hasn’t made a splash in Lebanon:

I was on the jury when this won the top documentary award at Dubai in 2009. The director is a young Lebanese drama-therapist who put on a production of 12 Angry Men inside Lebanon’s most notorious prison and filmed the long protracted process. The film was partly an attempt to reform the country’s criminal and penal laws and improve prison living conditions. It also enabled Daccache to extend her drama-therapy work to prisons across Lebanon, and she had started working in Syria shortly before the current conflict began. It is deeply moving and full of humanity, particularly in the way it describes the process of lifting men from a profound states of despair into a renewed desire to live and build a different future for themselves.

As a follow-up to that list, The Huffington Post wouldn’t take it. As such, they published their own list of 6 movies they believe The Guardian missed and included Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack and Nadine Labaki’s Caramel.

On the latter, the author wrote:

Labaki’s film was my in. I’m a relative newcomer to the magical world of cinema from MENA, having been brought up on a mixture of Woody Allen, the works of Fellini and Visconti, all sprinkled with a bit of Lina Wertmüller, and Caramel got me hooked from the first frame. It’s sensual, full of life and each time I watch it, it makes me proud to be a woman. It’s also the reason I yearned to travel to Beirut, and once I got there, I could see Labaki’s lushly constructed characters at every turn. I may be a romantic, but it’s a must watch for anyone who has yet to discover the beauty of Lebanese cinema. And its people. Labaki’s follow up, Where Do We Go Now? is also a greatly entertaining lesson in peace.

On The Attack:

Showcased at the Dubai Film Festival last December, Doueiri’s film is currently screening across the U.S.. The tragic story, of a Palestinian surgeon who discovers his marriage may not have been what it seemed, was what engulfed emotionally, at first. But then the absurd politics that enveloped the project really drove its profound meaning home for me. Lebanon banned the film because Doueiri had “snuck” into Israel to film his project, which of course was indispensable to the truthfulness of the story. A Gulf film organization distanced itself from The Attack though it had partly financed it in development. Of course, Doueiri is now having the last laugh, because his film has been winning prizes and hearts around the world, but The Attack remains a great example of why watching a film is almost always better than watching the news.

Lebanese filmmakers seem to be doing a rather fine job at having their works make a dent abroad.  It’s great to see Lebanese cinema getting such recognition abroad, especially with movies that are not what we’ve come to believe our filmmakers only know how to make.

It is sad that a movie such as The Attack will not be screened here for the most absurd reasons. I had the chance to watch the movie while on a trip to Paris and while I wasn’t as engrossed by it as the French with whom I shared the theatre or other Lebanese who found it highly engaging, I could appreciate the need for such a movie especially given the intense discussion it spurred with the Lebanese who watched the movie with me.

I believe that’s what cinema should do: spring up debate and discussion, especially in this country and specifically when it comes to topics that are still considered so taboo that discussing them can have “treason” plastered all over you. It seems those foreigners appreciate our movies more than we do.

 

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My Last Valentine in Beirut – Movie Review

This movie is for serious and smart people only” said the marketing tagline. Then by all accounts, I’m a stupid person who knows nothing of seriousness.

My Last Valentine in Beirut is not a movie. I have no idea what to make of it actually. It’s a horrid mess. It’s a nauseating spectacle. It’s a disgustingly bad atrocity. It’s a jumble of scenes with no apparent link between them except a quest to build up into a running time of approximately 80 minutes. Meet Juliette, a whore in Beirut. Meet a movie director and his assistant wanting to make a movie about Juliette. That’s basically the entirety of My Last Valentine in Beirut for you.

There’s no depth in the movie. Not one bit. The characters are as flat as a board. The storyline – or lack thereof – is so void that you shouldn’t even attempt searching for anything in it. The jabs at Lebanese society are delivered by the characters turning to face the camera – there’s not even one hint of subtlety anywhere. The movie takes cheap shots at other Lebanese movies such as Caramel, Bosta and W Halla2 la Wein which by all accounts are much, much better than this mess. Juliette’s attitude, obviously hyperbolic, becomes more than grating at points. The point of this being a critique of Lebanon today becomes entirely detached from what’s happening on screen that any message the movie tries to pass feels forced especially as the last scene rolls around and you start wondering how the movie got to the conclusion it tries to bring forth with its obvious lack of build up towards anything mentally stimulating.

The absolutely useless 3D is only here for the extra revenue and it’s so distracting at times that it visually hurts. Some camera angles, which are supposedly “artistic,” don’t make sense – even to someone like yours truly whose expertise when it comes to movies is restricted to being an enthusiastic viewer.  Even the only sex scene in the movie is of such catastrophic execution that it becomes one of the movie’s funniest moments. Those are not many.

You’d think that struggling Lebanese cinema would actually bother to come up with good enough movies especially with production being so scarce. But no, you get movies like My Last Valentine in Beirut which keep throwing one crappy scene after another at you in order to break the worst movie in history record, which is a shame really because the premise of a movie discussing prostitution in Lebanon is so dense that this movie, if actually done like a proper movie with a decent script, could have turned out well. Maybe. Who am I kidding. At some point during My Last Valentine in Beirut‘s rather short running time, I wished I was watching Breaking Dawn again. This was one of the worst movie experiences of my life. And that’s not an easy feat at all. My Last Valentine in Beirut has shattered my faith in Lebanese cinema into so many little pieces that next time a non-Nadine Labaki Lebanese movie is released, I’ll rely on other people going on a martyrdom viewing mission before I venture out.

Do not watch this. Even if your life depended on it. Even if your mother’s life depended on it. You could use the $10 admission price in so many better ways, not to mention the time of your life you wouldn’t have wasted trying to watch this cinematic massacre.

1/10 – and I’m being generous. 

Stray Bullet (Rsasa Taycheh) – Movie Review

Currently in cinemas across Lebanon, this movie is a must-see to every Lebanese. It will leave some of you in tears, especially if you’ve actually lived some of the events firsthand. And if you haven’t and you actually can think for yourself, you will come out of it amazed. That was the case for most of the people in the cinema I went to tonight.

Let me start with what I saw when the movie ended. I looked around and there were grown men drying up their tears… men my dad’s age. This movie is that poignant.

Set in 1976 Lebanon during a period when people thought the civil war had ended. The story revolves around a 30-year old named Noha, portrayed by the ever brilliant Nadine Labaki – and we will be discussing her in due time. Noha is getting married to a guy she doesn’t love, in fear of becoming a spinster like her sister. And on the day that her family is preparing a dinner for her fiance’s family, she decides to meet up with her ex-lover.

The events that follow are what make this movie so real. The meeting with the ex-lover, the dinner, the family dynamics, the emotions expressed on screen, the witty dialogue…. This movie is very Lebanese. It was set in 1976 and yet it still feels very familiar. We have all had at least one scene in that movie happen in our households – regardless of how modern and classy you believe your household is. This movie brings us, with our mentality that we have come far since then, back to the ground, telling us: you are still the same people, 35 years were simply added to the date.

Apart from the heartfelt and close to home plot, the movie feels rustic. The art direction here is just terrific. I have no idea about the techniques with which they filmed this but it feels like the movie was actually filmed in those times.

Now to the acting… all the actors and actresses in this movie have apparently given their services for free, which rendered the budget a simple $0.5 million. And the acting is so brilliant, in fact, that I think the actors and actresses gave it their all. I honestly didn’t know Lebanese acting personnel had it in them to give such raw, gut-wrenching and real performances without coming off as fake.

Nadine Labaki, whom I repeat is as brilliant in what she does as brilliant goes, is terrifyingly good. Portraying the character Noha, she reminded me of a review I read by an American top critic of her 2007 movie Caramel. He said to look out for this woman, both directing and acting-wise. While she doesn’t showcase her directing chops in this movie, she more than excels in her acting. There’s one scene at her brother’s house that will leave you dumb-founded. Also the scene that follows that will leave you shaken to your core.

This movie’s title “Stray Bullet” is very poignant. And the content is even more so. It is reminding us, all of us, to beware of going back to times like the ones the movie illustrates without coming off as preachy. Some say the running time is too short. But I thought it was perfect. I wanted more. But I felt it ended right where it should have ended. It didn’t embellish the story with needless subplots. It just lets your mind fill in the blank with your own version of events.

Let me conclude by saying this: Stray Bullet will hit you straight in the heart. It’s that good and I think it’s an obligation for every Lebanese to watch it.