Hezbollah’s Culture of Death Attacks Nadine Labaki’s Triumph at Cannes

You would think that a Lebanese director becoming the first Lebanese and Arab female director to win big at Cannes would be a cause for celebration.

You would think that Nadine Labaki’s important win at Cannes for her newest movie Capharnaüm would be a cause of pride in all Lebanese, regardless of who they are and where they come from.

You would think the above two statements would be a given any day, in any country, but in the country of Hezbollah, the pride and celebration of other people in the country are entities they are not okay with.

It all started yesterday when Manar Sabbagh, an Al Manar reporter, tweeted the following:

Her tweet, calling Lebanese people celebrating Nadine Labaki’s win “the sons of Phoenicia,” ridiculing them and belittling them in the process, telling them that there’s no reason to be proud of Nadine Labaki’s accomplishment because of the superiority of the deaths of Hezbollah militants in Syria.

The opium of the resistance is pretty high in this one, it seems. How the hell does a movie about mistreated children, child brides, illegal workers and a Lebanese director winning at Cannes somehow turn into an existential crisis for Hezbollah members who are so pressed about the populace not being eternally at their ass adorning them with kisses? Einstein needs to be resurrected to figure it out, I bet.

Not only is Nadine Labaki’s latest movie devoid of Israeli influences, references, anything that is related to that entity that must not be named, but her entire win at Cannes literally has nothing to do with anything that Hezbollah pertains to. And yet here we are. In this culture of death that they are entrenching the country in, the space that they are leaving for people who want to celebrate such moments – few as they are – is becoming as narrow as possible.

Alas, it doesn’t end there.

Today, Hezbollah deputy Nawaf el Moussawi decided to pitch in as well:

With a play on words, he says that when the going gets tough, the only thing that protects us is our weapons, and by “our” he means the weapons of his party, the same weapons that were – at many points in the past 10 years – used against the very same Lebanese citizens they said they wanted to protect, and those weapons that were taken to war in Syria, to protect a tyrant who killed and decimated Lebanese people over thirty years of his and his father’s rule over our country, to “protect” us from groups that are best friends with that tyrant.

No, I am not thankful for that, nor am I grateful.

Today, this culture of death and treason that is being perpetuated by entities like Manar Sabbagh and Nawaf el Moussawi is a cancer plaguing Lebanese society, bolstered by the fact that few are willing to tell them enough is enough, and supported by hundreds of thousands of their militants who when told go, they go.

This culture of death, where a Lebanese director is ridiculed, her achievements miniaturized, where those celebrating her are described in condescending terms, is a slippery slope until these people turn the country – and they are well underway – into a country that only resembles them.

This culture of death sees an insult in a director telling the story of a Syrian refugee that was rendered as such by the very same regime they’re fighting for. It sees in art an affront to the limitations they believe are enough for everyone. It sees in their own perception of what matters as the only marker for everyone else to judge and be judged. Hell no.

Today, it is more important than ever to stand up to the rhetoric that is propagated by the likes of Manar Sabbag and Nawaf el Moussawi. The two visions we want for our country cannot be more at odds.

We want art, cinema, achievements, celebrations of humane causes, highlighting of human struggles, attempts to advance our country forward, not bring it back to whatever the Ayatollah expects.

Nadine Labaki, we are proud of you and of what you have done.

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Nadine Labaki’s “Capharnaüm” Wins The Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Festival

What an accomplishment.

Nadine Labaki just became the first Lebanese director to win such a top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s the festival’s third highest prize.

After receiving a 15 minute standing ovation after its screening on Thursday, the film immediately became a front runner, at the heel of what some are calling “the best baby performance in the history of cinema.”

Capharnaüm, with its Lebanese and international release dates to be determined, tells the story of Zain, a 12 year old Lebanese child, who sues his parents for bringing him into the life they’ve given him: that of squalor, poverty, abuse, child brides, and lack of papers.

The reviewer for The Guardian called the middle section of the movie so ambitious that he doesn’t even know how Nadine Labaki pulled it off, calling the movie a favorite for the Best Foreign Feature Oscar as well for next year’s awards. Deadline, on the other hand, called the movie an instant foreign language Oscar front runner, believing the movie should even go beyond that category, the way Amour did in 2013.

With this movie, it seems Nadine Labaki has upped her game from the already high bar she set with her previous two features, and at this point it seems the sky is her limit. I cannot wait to see what this ingenious Lebanese director, the best in her generation, has to keep offering.

If anything, I hope that with movies like Capharnaüm, Lebanese moviemakers realize the importance of telling the stories that Lebanese society entails. Those are the kind of movies we should be making, as we touch on the wounds that plague our communities in our attempt to heal them.

Furthermore, the movie even features an Ethiopian refugee named Yordanos Shifera who’s been living in Lebanon without proper documents. That same actress has now been given the chance to walk the red carpet of an award winning movie in which she had a vital role. That’s amazing.

There’s already a scene circulating online from the movie, which you can watch here:

This is reportedly the opening scene of the movie.

Congrats Nadine Labaki. You made all of us proud, and I hope you keep receiving the accolades for your new masterpiece.

“The Insult” Is Nominated For Best Foreign Film Oscar, First Time Ever For A Lebanese Movie

Ziad Doueiry’s latest movie, “The Insult,” was just announced as one of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Film category for the 2018 Oscars. This marks the first time ever that a Lebanese movie has scored such a nomination – the closest we’d gotten before was when Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now” won the big prize at the Toronto Film Festival, and scored a nomination for best movie at the Critics Choice Award, losing to “A Separation.”

Released in September in Lebanon, “The Insult” quickly became one of the year’s biggest hits at the Lebanese box office, and a true testament to what Lebanese cinema can do when given proper material. In a time when we are inundated with one mind-numbing stupidity after the next, and chastised for being critical because the only thing you’re allowed to be in Lebanon is supportive, The Insult was a breath of fresh air, and hopefully a new standard by which other Lebanese filmmakers go about their craft.

The release of the movie was not without controversy. Right off the bat of landing in Lebanon for the premiere, director Ziad Doueiry was briefly arrested and had his French and Lebanese passports confiscated because his prior movie, The Assault, had been filmed in Israel. He was ultimately trialled and released without charges.

“The Insult” is about the Palestinian Yasser (Kamel El Basha), a respected foreman in Beirut charged with fixing building-code violations, who encounters car mechanic Toni (Adel Karam) whose building has an illegal drainpipe. After Yasser suggests fixing the drainpipe, Toni slams the door in his face, which prompts Yasser to fix the drainpipe anyway, leading to an insult from Yasser’s side.

This single slur then becomes the hallmark for a court case that divides the nation, pitting Palestinian refugee and construction worker, against a Lebanese Christian. The court case evolves into more than just insults, but into the long standing sectarian grievances that plague our daily lives back home.

The political backdrop of “The Insult” are historical speeches of Bachir Gemayel, with all the political pulsations that such speeches entail on the relationship between Lebanese – mostly Christians – and Palestinians refugees; it’s essentially a cross examination of an aspect of Lebanese society that many of us do not routinely address.

I recently had the honor to watch this movie in New York City. The experience of “The Insult”was humbling. It was a movie so about home, that I was watching from so far away. For the duration of its runtime, I was transported back to the streets of Achrafieh that I knew, to those encounters and discussions that we know all too well. It was so engrossing that I was disoriented, exiting that New York City theatre, as to where I was. It’s a work of art that renders you speechless, worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The entire cast did such a phenomenal job, with career defining performances. I was a proud Lebanese watching those actors soar on screen, in front of Americans who were as engrossed as I was, despite them not being aware of the historical backdrop to which the scenes unfold. It doesn’t matter – the struggles illustrated in “The Insult” are universal, transcending politics, and attaining human nature.

With that movie, Ziad Doueiry has proven once again that Lebanon has enough reservoir of stories to make proper cinema, as our brains are rendered numb with the barrage of worthless junk that fills theaters. Congrats to the makers of the movie and all of the cast, you’ve made us tremendously proud. Best of luck to you, and I hope you bring home that trophy.

La La Land, Lebanon Edition: A Lebanese Oriental Version Of The Awesome Movie’s Songs

If you’ve been following my blog’s Facebook page or my personal Twitter account, you’d have found out by now that I was simply blown away by how amazing the movie La La Land was, and that I was rooting for it to win everything at the 89th Academy Awards.

Yes, I feel personally victimized by the fact it did not win Best Picture; #JeSuisLaLaLand #JusticeForLaLaLand are the official hashtags in case you are wondering.

Part of the brilliance of the movie for me, as someone who generally dislikes (read, hates) musicals, is that the music was so charming. The movie’s soundtrack basically stayed on repeat for a few weeks after watching the movie, and I suggest you download it in case you haven’t. Notable tracks are: Epilogue, City of Stars, Audition and Mia & Sebastian’s Theme.

Therefore, when a friend sent me a YouTube link of a Lebanese oriental cover of one of the soundtrack’s songs, I couldn’t but click and then be so enchanted that I couldn’t but share it here, which isn’t something I usually do:

I hope you find this as wonderful as I did. The group behind this calls itself “Aleph.” It’s made up of:

  • Aleph Abi Saad Piano
  • Jihad Asad – Kanoun
  • Ramzi Boukamel – Guitar
  • Ghassan ‘Gass’ Sakr – Palmas
  • Raed Boukamel – Nay (Flute)
  • Charlie Fadel – Cajon
  • Michel Labaki – Bass

Their covers gives an extra flair of melancholy to the soundtrack, which I daresay goes really well with the overall theme of the movie. So today, I can’t but celebrate the talent of this Lebanese musical group that turned the soundtrack of one of this past year’s most celebrated movies, one that should be familiar, into a sound that is distinctly theirs.

Kudos!

Wadi Rum: One of Arabia’s Most Gorgeous Places, And A Must Visit For Lebanese Who Like Adventure

As far as other Arabs are concerned, Lebanon is considered to be the greenest of the region’s countries, and despite rampant deforestation and grossly non-environmentally friendly governmental policies, this is actually the case for our little country. Our biggest asset in bringing people to visit us from the region isn’t, therefore, only our “joie de vivre,” nightlife and awesome food, but the fact that we offer them eco-tourism that their countries can’t match. Alas, Lebanon tends to take its tourism for granted.

I was recently in Jordan for a few days during which I had the chance to see some of the country’s main touristic attractions, including their 7 wonders of the world site Petra, and the place that stuck in my head to this very day and the place that I would want to visit again as soon as I can and recommend that everyone do so: Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum is not unfamiliar with many of you. You’ve actually seen it plenty of times before but didn’t know it was the case. It’s featured heavily in the latest Star Wars movie “Rogue One.” It was the filming site of Best Picture nominee “The Martian.” It was also where parts of the second Transformers movie, Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.

Simply put, Hollywood and Westerners know Wadi Rum exists and flock to it in droves. For other Arabs and Lebanese, however, the place remains near-fictive. When I mentioned that I’d love to visit the place a few months ago, the reply I got was: “what’s there to see in the desert?”

The answer is: quite a lot.

The reputation that we, as Lebanese, have when it comes to our tourism style is that we’re not adventurous. We want good food, nightlife and shopping. To me, that reputation is horrific. I asked many travel agencies about that reputation and all of them corroborated it: this is what they sell. I guess this doesn’t apply to a newer generation of Lebanese, and many of this blog’s readers, but I daresay it’s high time to change that.

  • How To Get To Wadi Rum:

A new travel path between Beirut and Jordan was launched last week, offering direct flights between Beirut and Aqaba for $212 round trip. This path is better than Beirut – Amman because Aqaba is much closer to Wadi Rum than Amman (70km versus 300km).

Once you get to Aqaba, it’s quite easy to rent a car. Your Lebanese driver’s license actually works, or you can have an international driver’s license done to be on the safe side. Oil prices in Jordan are much cheaper than their counterpart back home and car rental prices are super cheap too.

  • What To Do In Wadi Rum:

The Wadi Rum reserve is huge. It’s around 700km2. I daresay there’s no way that anyone can do the whole thing in one stay unless they stay there for a couple of weeks, and that’s not ideal because it’s a physically demanding visit.

Gorgeous scenery: While we, as Lebanese, completely disregard the jewels we have interspersed in our country and don’t bother in their upkeep, the Jordanians have done the total opposite with Wadi Rum: it is a natural reserve that is so clean, so neatly kept and so beautiful. Wadi Rum is the total opposite of the kind of eco-tourism that we can offer in Lebanon: it’s a desert, filled with gorgeous sand dunes, high limestone mountains, sitting on one of Arabia’s biggest aquifers, and is as authentic as a desert experience can be. Your instagram posts will be ace, trust me.

Safari rides: Forget safaris in Dubai. I went on a 4×4 truck ride across the area and this is the real deal. You sit in the back of the pickup truck, and a skilled driver takes you around gorgeous scenery that will leave you dumbfounded. Refer to pictures below.

Bedouin life: Wadi Rum is also home to many Bedouin tribes that still live there. Those tribes will open their arms to you and host you for lunch or dinner. Their cooking style is very interesting in that, to save up on wood, they bury their cooking pots in the sand with the burning embers and let the meat and vegetables slowly cook. I had the pleasure to sit with a Bedouin tribal chief who told us stories of life in the desert, played a little on his rababa and invited us to share a meal with him.

Camel Riding: Western countries also stereotype our countries as the places were camels are the go-to mode of transportation. They’d be disappointed, I suppose, to find out that the first time I’ve ever ridden a camel was in Wadi Rum.

Hiking: I didn’t have the chance to do a lot of hiking at Wadi Rum but there are trails all around the place that vary based on difficulty that those who like hiking will find to be exquisite. My fair share of rock climbing and hiking that I did there was unforgettable, although my legs would probably ask for a break before I do that again.

Sunsets: There’s something to say about the beauty of sunsets and desert sunsets have their own taste that I’m super glad I got to experience. I was able to sit atop one a high rock with a view, look over at a huge landscape in front of me as it turned into hues of gold and orange.

Star Gazing: After the sun set, I was treated to one of the most beautiful starry skies I’ve ever seen. Entire constellations spread in front of you. Just lie there, and enjoy the gorgeous view.

  • Where To Stay:

You don’t need to go back to the city in order to enjoy Wadi Rum for more than a day. The place has many camping sites interspersed here and there, with prices for the night being around $20.

Why It’s a Must Visit:

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the place is. I spent an entire day there – from 8AM till around 10PM – and left feeling disheartened because I wanted to spend more time and see more places. Apart from it being historic with it being one of the places that Lawrence of Arabia spent a lot of time and its rocks having many ancient inscriptions on them, Wadi Rum offers you quite an experience that Lebanon doesn’t have and I daresay other Arab countries of the region can’t match. It’s unfortunate that this jewel in the Middle East is discovered and used quite often by Hollywood and Europeans but not by the locals or those from neighboring countries like us. It’s cheap, quite accessible with no visa requirements for entry for Lebanese, and you’ll go back to Lebanon with many a chance to tell wonderful stories of your desert excursions. Go there!

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:

Mashrou’ Leila’s Ibn El Leil; Ab: Beit Byout; Film Ktir Kbeer: When Lebanese Art Is Great

Amidst the very dismal situation in the country, of which I’ve written and nagged your head about plenty, there are currently three emblems of Lebanese art shining bright of which I think we should all take notice. The three acts/events I’m about to highlight have not paid me to support them and probably don’t need my support anyway, but I’ve found their offering to be so impressive that I think it should be highlighted.

Ab: Beit Byout:

Ab Beit Byout

Ab: Beit Byout is the Lebanese take on August: Osage County, the award-winning turned-movie play, which you probably know because of both Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep who received Oscar nominations for their roles.

It’s the story of a very dysfunctional family meeting around their matriarch at the event of the disappearance and eventual death of their father. What ensues is sheer acting brilliance, a mouthful of dialogue that is as biting as it is seething with anger, regret, sadness and joy.

The adaptation to a Lebanese audience is great. It manages to carry enough of the punches of its American counterpart without feeling like a word for word copy or a subpar rip off. There are enough Lebanese aspects to it to make the play feel very relatable, very “I’ve seen such a thing take place in my hometown.”

Catch it at Babel Theatre in Hamra.

Film Ktir Kbeer (Very Big Shot):

Film Ktir Kbeer Poster

Nothing about this movie encouraged me to watch it. The title didn’t make sense. The poster felt like yet another Lebanese action-movie-wannabe. Confession time: I was extremely wrong.

Film Ktir Kbir is the kind of movies you’ve been wanting Lebanese filmmakers to make but as they were too busy making “Bebe” and movies about the civil war or about Christians hating Muslims and vice versa.

“Very Big Shot” is the story of 3 siblings who, after growing up in lower socio-economic standards, find themselves in deep trouble after getting involved with a drug lord, causing them to devise an ingenious way to save themselves.

There’s plenty of curse words, plenty of “every day” banter, and few cliches that are mostly spun as jokes. The acting is great. The script is extremely tightly written albeit the ending felt a bit rushed. It’s a movie that is equally fiction and equally a criticism of Lebanese society and politics.

Keep an open mind to it and give it a shot. I bet you won’t be disappointed.

Mashrou’ Leila’s “Ibn El Leil”:

Ibn El Leil

The opening song of Mashrou’ Leila’s newest album “Ibn El Leil” is an ethereal, mostly instrumental track called Aoede and it sets the tone for an album that is both more mature, more cohesive and more sonically impressive than anything they’ve offered before.

If you’re a fan of what they’ve done before – their song “Lil Watan” is excellent – then this album will be right up your alley. If you’ve been iffy about this Lebanese band, give this album a shot: there are some tracks there that are so nicely done they might change your mind.

After launching this album at London’s “Barbican,” The Guardian wrote about how this Lebanese band might be on the brink of finally exploding and filling stadiums instead of smaller venues. Perhaps that will happen one day, but what is sure for now is that “Ibn el Leil” is one hell of an album filled with songs that not only defy Arab and Lebanese stereotypes, but are eons above and beyond anything that is offered musically in the region.

In their latest offering, Mashrou’ Leila are breaking the confines of what Arab music was allowed to say. It’s a joy to listen to.

 

 

Listen to: 3 Minutes; Kalam; Tayf; Ashabi; Marrikh.