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:

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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

Black Swan – Movie Review

Black Swan is a new psychological thriller, brought to you by Darren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman as a perfectionist ballerina who lands the main role in a remake of “Swan Lake”.

“Swan Lake” is basically a ballet about a princess who falls in love with a prince, only to be turned into a white swan. To get rid of the curse, she needs to find true love’s kiss. However, the prince she loves is seduced by the black swan and the white swan ends up killing herself. Usually, the swan parts are played by two different actors. But in Black Swan, the director of the struggling ballet institute wanted to have the same person play both roles, possibly to show the dueling sides of humanity. Natalie Portman’s character, Nina, excels at being the White Swan. But her frigid, perfectionist self makes it hard for her to be the Black Swan, seductive and darkly sensual. The movie is her becoming the Black Swan.

As many of you know already, Natalie Portman is getting major award buzz for her role in this. She has won almost every award this season for her role in this movie and deservedly so. She gives an intense, haunting performance of a girl breaking out of her shell on so many levels that she’s not herself anymore. The movie itself can be considered simply as Portman’s vehicle. She is the fragile ballerina who is, for lack of better words, losing it. And she loses it perfectly.

I remember sitting dumbfounded after watching this. I haven’t watched it since. But it’s one of those movies that leave you in shock by the end. You don’t want them to end. You want to see what happens next, what kind of twisted psychological game Aronofsky has up his sleeve. And this is exactly what this movie is. A huge twisted psychological maze that is so open to interpretation that my friends and I cannot even agree on who the villain in this movie is, if there’s a villain in the first place. Some say it’s Nina’s mother – a woman who had to give up her dreams of becoming a ballet icon to raise her daughter and is now trying to live her dream through Nina – or Nina herself, with her Black Swan alter ego.

Others say that it’s Lily, the character portrayed by Mila Kunis. Lily is a newcomer to the ballet institute and she can be the perfect Black Swan. She doesn’t worry about the perfection of her moves, she doesn’t care about anything basically. She just lets go. And soon enough, Nina begins to feel threatened by Lily. Or is she?

Mila Kunis gives a pretty remarkable performance. She did not get an Oscar nomination for her role, although she got a golden globe nod and lost to Melissa Leo.

All in all, this is a movie with acting of extraordinary power. And if the hair on your neck don’t stand up when the last movie of the movie comes up, then there’s something really wrong.