Ziad El Rahbani’s “Bennesbeh La Bokra Chou?” Was Beautiful; “Film Ameriki Tawil” In Cinemas Soon

Belnesbeh La bokra Chou Ziad el Rahbani play movie

Let me start out by saying that I am a Ziad el Rahbani uninitiated.

The tag-line for “Bennesbeh La Boukra Chou?” went: “you’ve been listening to it for 35 years, now come and watch it.” Well, I haven’t to say the least. In fact, apart from the occasional references to Ziad el Rahbani’s golden lines here and there among my acquaintances, my knowledge about his plays would’ve been essentially zero. It’s not something I’m proud of – to be so ignorant of a Lebanese icon is not one of my stronger suits I have to say – but I vehemently refused to listen to plays knowing that sometime in the near future I might be able to watch them.

Well, that future is now.

I was lucky to attend the Lebanese premiere – or the cinematic premiere that is – of “Bennesbeh Laboukra Chou?,” dedicated to the memory of Joseph Saker and Layal Rahbani, which will be in cinemas starting next Thursday, and I have to say: I’m thoroughly impressed.

No, this is not about the play’s sentences that everyone has memorized, or the songs that are engrained in our memories, even mine. This is about the entire experience of it: from film, to seeing the sheer joy on the faces of those watching it, to their reaction to finally seeing the play they’ve known so well on screen in the way that it is.

For starters, the play is filmed well enough for it to be shown in cinema. It’s not Kubrick, of course, but it is decent to the extent that a few minutes in you’ll forget that you’re watching rescued footage of a nearly four decades old play and simply fall into it. In fact, the grainy texture even gives it character: this is not a glossy movie, it’s rustic, full of life and quite charming. It feels documentary-like, which is also the purpose of the play at hand.

No one needs me to talk about the content of course, but I have to say that I was grossly impressed. Ziad’s satirical take on the Lebanese way of life then, the clash of classes and the struggle of the prolitariat, could not be truer even today. In fact, the movie/play starts: there have been many tomorrows after that, but what has changed? The fact of the matter is, so little has, and things are probably worse today than they were back then. Ziad’s monologue towards the end, about the need for work, about providing and trying to escape poverty is chills-inducing. It’s beautiful to see the lines many have repeated over the years be said in front of you “live,” and it’s even more beautiful to see the audience that knows those lines so well react to them.

I asked someone how it felt to watch the play they had listened to endlessly for years, and they said that it felt exactly as they had expected. I had to agree: you may be used to the voices, but the acting is exquisite. I have to say, Ziad el Rahbani may be a great playwright, but he’s an even better actor: the energy that man exuded on his stage is near-unparalleled in these times. No wonder audiences back then fell for him: it brought me such joy to see him perform in the way that he did, and I’m sure it will do the same to you.

You don’t need my words to tell you to watch “Bennesbeh Laboukra Chou?” if it’s something you planned. But let me tell you this: the people singing along to the songs, muttering those lines under their breathes or simply clapping along was an experience in itself, one full of nostalgia and wonder, one that I recommend wholeheartedly.

Film Ameriki Tawil

And, for those of you who want more, a list you can now add me to, there will be more: Film Ameriki Tawil, the even better play as I was told, will be in cinemas in the coming months as well (a source told me in around 2 months), and here’s part of the trailer:

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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:

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.

 

Lebanon’s VIP Cinemas & Empire Premiere

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Before we begin, I must insist that you all go watch the movie Amour (my review), whose poster is shown at the side of the above picture, when it’s released in Lebanese cinemas next week. It doesn’t matter which cinema you go to in order to do so as long as you watch that brilliance.

I had never been to a VIP cinema before. The idea of paying more than $10 for any movie given what our screens are is not only absur, it’s basically financially not feasible for someone like me who spends a lot of time at cinemas. Yes, I watch more movies than I actually review.

When Circuit Empire invited me to attend the grand opening of Empire Premiere, the renovated Empire Sodeco, I felt like it would be a nice opportunity to see what the fuss was all about. Before I discuss, here are some details you might be interested in:

  • The theatre involves 6 theaters, all of which are VIP-like theaters.
  • Each theatre contains about 30 seats.
  • The ticket price is $20 which includes ONLY your theatre seat. Drinks and pop corn and food are not included and must be purchased separately.
  • The food that will be available for purchase there is sushi from Achrafieh’s Le Sushi Bar. Portions will be smaller than the ones available at the restaurant itself and the price will be the same.
  • Pop Corn is supposed to be gourmet pop corn with different flavors every week of which someone mentioned zaatar.

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The most interesting aspect about Empire Premiere, to me, is their 18+ policy which means if you want to watch a movie without all those preteen fangirls, you might have a chance to.

It’s not all that peachy, however. While the project is, as you can see from the pictures, quite ambitious, I couldn’t not express my disappointment to whoever asked that such money was spent into something that, as far as I’m concerned, already exists with slight variations elsewhere, when it could have been done in investing in an IMAX movie complex which truly means a “refined movie experience,” which the new theatre’s tagline is.

After all, at least to me, a refined movie experience is less about very comfortable reclining seats and blankets and more about an engrossing screen that satisfies the craving that movies should satisfy.

The replies I got to the aforementioned points were the following:

  • An IMAX screen doesn’t fit anywhere in Beirut so the project cannot happen there. It has to happen outside of Beirut which isn’t feasible at the moment.
  • Empire Premiere differs from other VIP cinemas in it offering the lounge in question. And in the fact that the ticket is only $20 for the movie whole it is more than that in other VIP cinemas.
  • Empire Premiere isn’t only for movies but will serve as a space for conferences in the long run. It will also allow people to book entire theatre rooms for approximately $500 to watch a football game or a movie of their choice.

Why can’t an IMAX cinema happen outside Beirut? Because everything in Beirut is the answer I got: malls, cinemas, etc. Everything is centralized, which I wrote about here. So until a viable alternative location which people would go to exists, an IMAX cinema is out of the question because it requires its own multiplex and cannot be part of a mall.

I pitched in the idea of building one at ABC Verdun. Apparently their rent rates are too high for such a project.

If you think the whole concept is not really for you, you thought right. As to why cinemas keep doing the same thing over and over again (VIP, premiere), they said that market research has indicated that the category of “refined Beiruti people” aged 45-65 are barely going to the movies anymore and this is targeted more to them.

The place isn’t meant for us.

Moreover, I know for a fact that a couple of friends paid $12 for VIP tickets at CinemaCity to watch The Hobbit, which means that the $20 entry price isn’t the lowest in Lebanon.

The bottom line is: I found the experience to be super comfortable. But do I want to pay $20 for a movie that I can watch elsewhere for at least half that amount? Well, the answer goes both ways: if you have enough money and believe it’s a must for you, then go ahead. If not, then the answer is staring you straight in the face.
As far as I’m concerned, the old-fashioned cinema experience is part of every movie’s charm. But that’s just me.

The Top 13 Movies of 2012

Since I haven’t watched all the “it” movies that 2012 has to offer yet, this list is once again tentative and will be subject to updates. Movies that I have yet to see include but are not restricted to Django Unchained, The Master, Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty.

I can’t say 2012 has been a brilliant year for movies but there were some releases that stood above others for me. So without further ado, this is the preliminary list of the movies that I enjoyed the most over the past 12 months.

When a review is available, it will be linked through the title.

13 – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild Movie Poster

This odd, peculiar and strange movie is bolstered by an absolutely stunning performance by six year old newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis as a little girl who’s fighting for her father and her forgotten community.

12 – Anna Karenina

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This take on Tolstoy’s most famous novel turned out to be very polarizing. But I was one to enjoy it. Despite a few hiccups in the storytelling, this adaptation turned out to be quite interesting.

11 – Wreck-It-Ralph

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The best animated feature oscar is not going for this movie. But make no mistake, Wreck-It-Ralph is where animation magic and heart lie.

10 – Moonrise Kingdom


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Wes Anderson’s new offering is a refreshing take on a boy’s first love. It is a charming movie with a great musical score to accompany it. You can’t but feel happy as you finish watching Moonrise Kingdom.

9 – Life of Pi

Life of Pi movie poster

Ang Lee’s tale of an Indian boy lost in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengali Tiger is a marvel to look at. But that’s not what the movie is all about. This story about survival despite all odds cannot but take you in.

8 – Intouchables

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It’s no wonder this French movie quickly became one of the biggest movies in the history of French cinema. The real story of two men who become friends despite their drastically different backgrounds and their entirely different cultural and social classes is a joy to see.

7 – The Hunger Games

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This post-apocalyptic movie captured the book’s essence: the portrayal of the characters’ anguish, their fight for their own lives and their ordeal under a ruthless tyranny.

6 – Skyfall

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The best James Bond movie in years. Skyfall gives 007 a much needed aspect of humanity and helps make our favorite spy much more relatable.

5 – Argo

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Ben Affleck’s new movie of a stranger-than-fiction real story is absolutely mesmerizing. It did a great job at showcasing the morbid atmosphere that the American hostages were in and managed to turn their ordeal into top-rate drama that will keep you at the edge of your seat.

4 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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This coming of age movie is enchanting and absolutely heartfelt. It is about the joy of acceptance and the fear of rejection – all in the mind of a fifteen year old struggling with his freshman year of high school.

3 – Lincoln

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This take on the last few months of the United States’ 16th president is absolutely brilliant. Be it from the top-rate acting performances to the highly engaging story, Lincoln is an absolute must-see.

2 – Silver Linings Playbook

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Jennifer Lawrence gives the year’s best acting performance opposite a highly surprising Bradley Cooper in a movie about mental illness that goes beyond that and eventually becomes a movie about our inherent human need for others who can understand us.

1 – Amour

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Michael Haneke’s movie of old age is riveting. It is breath-taking, captivating and absolutely chilling.

Paulo Coelho Loves Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now

I’m not sure if I like the king of cliche making his love for Nadine Labaki’s hit movie, Where Do We Go Now, known but Paulo Coelho took it to twitter just now to let everyone know that he is a fan of Nadine Labaki’s 2011 movie which was a resounding success among audiences, even non-Lebanese ones, – less so among critics.

Coelho even liked the soundtrack, which isn’t hard to imagine as the music is definitely well done.

Paulo Coelho + Where Do We Go Now + Nadine Labaki

Ironically, the situation that sparked Where Do We Go Now happened way too many times in 2012. Hopefully Nadine Labaki won’t bother writing another movie where she invites Lebanese people from different religions (and more generally political) factions to love each other. The now-cliche aspect of Where Do We Go Now notwithstanding, I’m glad for the praise the movie just got even if it doesn’t mean much. I guess this is the first time someone as known as Coelho makes his liking for Lebanese cinema known.

Hopefully some good Lebanese movies see the light of day this year. You can buy Where Do We Go Now on DVD and Blu-Ray if you want to watch it.

Skyfall – Movie Review

This is the end. Hold your breath and count to ten, Adele croons as Skyfall’s breathtaking opening scene comes to an end. A car-turned motorbike-turned train chase in the busy streets of Istanbul is as big of an adrenaline rush as you can get. The one-two hit of Skyfall‘s opening ten minutes is more than enough to keep you hooked in your seat for the ride that is going to unfold.

James Bond is assumed dead. MI6 is threatened, right in its heart. And M is taking all the blame for it. But she is resilient and set to find out who’s the player in the shadows causing all this mayhem – after all, it can’t but be someone she has worked with before, someone who knows MI6 as well as she does. Could M and James Bond finally meet their match in the series’ most unhinged villain, so reminiscent of The Dark Knight‘s “The Joker” in its complexity?

Daniel Craig’s greatest legacy as James Bond is bringing humanity back to the character. Long gone are the gimmicks, the overt supernatural technologies that filled installments such as “Die Another Day.” Long gone are the days of James Bond being near indestructible, near invincible. Long gone are the days where James Bond doesn’t show his emotional side. Long gone are the days where James Bond is just a killing machine that doesn’t fail physical tests, doesn’t get shot. Long gone are the days where James Bond is anything but weak. We had gotten a glimpse of that with Casino Royale. It slipped in the horrid Quantum of Solace. But Skyfall is a great return to form for the character and the actor.

Judy Dench as M is captivating as the wounded agent who has given her life for the agency that’s now crumbling before her eyes, trying so hard to cling to the only thing she’s ever done well and terrified at the prospect of having everything she knows change.

The new additions to the roster such as Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem do exceptionally in their corresponding roles. Skyfall boasts a terrific British cast that knows what they’re doing every second they are on screen.

Sam Mendes, the director of this installment, has to be credited for breathing new life into a series that seemed to be nearing its final breath with Quantum of Solace, a movie that threatened to bring the reboot to its knees. His take on the franchise roots it in the real world than any other 007 entry, making Skyfall oddly relatable and passionate for a movie about a spy agent.

Skyfall is definitely an addition to the 007 series to be proud of. It is a movie that will make you stand tall after it’s done and as everything crumbles around our favorite agent. The lengthy run time of over two hours will feel surprisingly short as you’re immersed into their oddly familiar world. I believe it is one of the best 007 movies of the entire series. And as the movie reaches its climax, you realize that Skyfall is where it ends. Skyfall is also where it begins again. So hold your breath. And count to ten.

9/10