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.
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.
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: