Lebanese Priorities: Censoring The Film Out of Beirut’s Film Festival

L'inconnu du Lac movie poster

L’inconnu du Lac movie poster

When I was walking around the streets of Paris a few months ago, a movie poster at one of their newspaper kiosks caught my attention. It was a colorful painting of two men kissing, with stamps of some impact the movie had at the most recent Cannes Festival. It was called “L’Inconnu du Lac.”

I jokingly said to my friend back then that such a movie would never be released in Lebanon because, you know, there’s someone out there whose main concern is my moral well-being. Who needs art? Who needs some degree of taboo breaking? Who needs any form of mental challenges when you have a bureau whose job is to make sure you don’t get the least mentally stimulated?

A year ago, a friend of mine expressed pride in her cousin, a filmmaker named Farah Chaer, who had produced a short movie called “I Offered You Pleasure,” on the widely known but not-spoken-of topic of “Met’a” marriage among Lebanon’s Shiite sect. An interview conducted with the filmmaker back then asked her about the possibility of having her movie censored. I was sure she’d have trouble.

I was right about both movies.

Our bureau of censorship, which censored a play about censorship about a month ago, decided that both movies couldn’t be part of the Beirut Film Festival, which was opened by Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” yesterday, an excellent movie if I may say so.

Our bureau of censorship decided for every single Lebanese that a movie talking about the “met’a” marriage was not to be seen by the Lebanese people. It decided that such an issue is not to be allowed to discussed on screen. It decided that they want to preserve our well-being by banning us from being exposed to that facet of our society that not all of us are aware of.

Our bureau of censorship decided that a movie about a homosexual relationship which had a torrent of praise bestowed on it in Cannes is not suitable for viewers here. It decided that we all have the mental span of a two year old and as such couldn’t withstand having such forms of art approach us without damaging our souls, our precious whole Lebanese souls which should never be maimed by such indecencies. I wonder, what will happen to the movie “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” which won the top award at Cannes and which also has unsimulated lesbian sex scenes? Will we also not be allowed to watch that movie as well because they don’t see it fit?

As Lebanese, we truly don’t have the extent of freedom that we think we do. We can’t discuss religions freely. We can’t discuss politics freely. We can’t discuss politicians freely. We can’t even criticize our president freely. And lately, there’s been a growing phenomenon of censorship that’s been greatly limiting what we get to be exposed to in order to maintain public order.

As a Lebanese today, with such bans I am stopped from having discussions that would otherwise not be possible in my society. I am stopped from being able to get exposed to the culture that exists beyond this country of mine. I am stopped from being able to enjoy this art that is cinema due to the prongs of a bureau that cannot appreciate the art in it. I am forced to remove the film out of the Beirut Film Festival because there’s really no point in having a movie festival where every single scene is not an expression of freedom, but a mere manifestation of some scissors that decided that scene was allowed.

As a Lebanese today, I am very thankful my country has its priorities in order: my morals, ethics and whatnot top that list. As if we can’t download both movies really soon. Wlek tfeh.