“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.

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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!

Lebanese Ibrahim Maalouf Wins César, The French Equivalent Of The Oscars, For Best Original Music In a Movie

ibrahim-maalouf-cesar

Establishing himself as one of the most coveted musicians in France for this past year, French-Lebanese musician and trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf added another accolade to his growing list of achievements with his first César for his work on the movie “Dans les forêts de Sibérie.”

The César Awards are considered as the French equivalent of the Oscars, which will be held tonight. They are the highest French honor that can be given to the movie industry. It was Ibrahim Maalouf’s second nomination and first win.

Maalouf was competing against another Lebanese composer, Gabriel Yared, who has previously won an Oscar and a Grammy for his work on The English Patient.

The César adds to Ibrahim Maalouf’s achievements this year as he has previously won “best musical spectacle” at Les Victoires de La Musique almost two weeks ago.

Ibrahim Maalouf is considered by many to be a pioneer musician with his adaptation of Oriental quarter notes to Western music, by custom-made trumpets that have four valves instead of three. This has allowed Maalouf to create outstanding music over his career, including a Western version of Oum Kalthoum’s music in a 2015 album that was titled “Kalthoum.”

He credits his Lebanese immigrant background in shaping his musical voice and giving him a message to pass on through his work.

You can check the video of Maalouf winning here. He will be coming to Lebanon for a concert at Baalbek on July 22nd.

 

Rejecting Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack

The Attack Ziad Doueiri

News of Lebanon’s refusal to submit Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack, a movie I had originally told you about here, to the Oscars is making the rounds. You can check all the details here (link).

If the movie had been banned from being shown in theaters here, the discussion would be different entirely. But is the movie really representative enough of Lebanon to be our submission for the Oscars? And is this refusal enough for us to call the committee responsible for such dealings ignorant and with a backward mentality?

I think not.

The movie features the following:

  • A story by an Algerian author.
  • No Lebanese crew.
  • Israeli and Palestinian actors.
  • Location of shooting is Israel.
  • Lebanese director with an American passport.

Would I want to see the movie? Definitely. Do I want it to represent Lebanon at the Academy Awards? Let’s just say I’m on the fence regarding this.

This isn’t exactly West Beirut for us to cry wolf for it not being submitted. If Ziad Doueiri truly wanted his movie to be Lebanon’s official submission to the 85th Academy Awards (my predictions – to lighten the mood), he could have at least made an effort to make the movie more Lebanese by maybe shooting it over here and not in Israel and having a Lebanese actor or actress play a role in it, despite both elements not being a criteria required for Academy Award approval.

As it stands, the only thing Lebanese about The Attack is the director who wouldn’t have been able to make this movie if he had actually employed his Lebanese aspect from a bureaucratic point of view. The director says his choices regarding the movie’s components are logical.

Well, I say the committee’s decision is entirely logical as well. Not everything is supposed to be turned into a national matter of censorship.

 

2013 Oscar Predictions

The 85th Academy Awards are held tonight so I figured I’d throw in my predictions as to who will win and who should win some major categories. It’s not Oscar night without a few predictions to go wrong, am I right?

I’m glad this year’s Oscars fall on the unpredictable side – there’s no absolute frontrunner in most of the categories so the night should be interesting to say the least.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

Best Picture Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Argo
  • Who Should Win: Amour

Amour (review) is, hands-down, the best movie of the year. It won’t win because of the way the Oscars are run. So we are left with the movie that has been picking up best picture awards here and there: Argo (review). I don’t get it really. There are two other movies on that list that I believe are more deserving (Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook) but you cannot underestimate momentum.

Best Director Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Steven Spielberg
  • Who Should Win: Michael Haneke

Out of all the nominated directors in this category, Haneke managed to turn a simple story of old age into a spellbinding movie that captured everyone’s heart and mind. With little special effects, a Parisian apartment, his camera and two great leads, Haneke created Amour. But seeing as his nomination was a surprise by itself, expecting him to win what he deserves is far-fetched. So Academy Award-darling Spielberg with what is arguably his best movie in years will take it.

Best Actor Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Daniel Day Lewis
  • Who Should Win: Daniel Day Lewis

I don’t believe this needs any explanation. What a brilliant performance.

Best Actress Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Emmanuelle Riva
  • Who Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva

Next to the Best Picture race, this will be the night’s most interesting. What started out as a two-horse race with Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence battling it out for coveted awards soon turned into a three-way race as veteran actress Emmanuelle Riva took the BAFTA and later on the French César. At an age of 85, many voters will probably go for Riva because it’s now or never for her. Chastain and Lawrence will get their shot one day. The mere fact that Emmanuelle Riva is present on that list means there are enough Academy members who want her. It’s also her birthday today. HAPPY BIRTHDAY EMMANUELLE!

Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones
  • Who Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones gave what is, in my opinion, the best performance out of the bunch. Pre-Oscar awards have been spread around this bunch of nominees in a balanced way so no clear frontrunner has emerged but I think Lincoln‘s (review) momentum will help Jones take another Oscar. Every single nominee in this list has won before.

Best Supporting Actress Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Anne Hathaway
  • Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway

There’s no denying Hathaway deserves this. She owned the entire Les Misérables (review) with her chilling performance of “I Dreamed A Dream.” The movie starts dying when her character dies. No one else in this category is as deserving and she has basically won every single pre-Oscar award there is.

Original Screenplay Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Quentin Tarantino
  • Who Should Win: Michael Haneke

There’s something understated about turning a simple story into a work of art, which is what Haneke did with his story in Amour. But unfortunately, that’s not the kind that usually triumphs. I expect Tarantino to come out triumphant for Django Unchained (review).

Adapted Screenplay Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Argo
  • Who Should Win: Silver Linings Playbook

Argo has the momentum. Silver Linings Playbook (review) has the superior quality and the charm. Momentum wins.

Animated Film Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

Who Will Win: Frankenweenie

Who Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph

I found Wreck-It Ralph to be one of the most charming – and best – movies of the year. It is what I expect from an animated movie to be. Frankenweenie, on the other hand, is what plays on the Academy’s strings: homage to classics, daring technique, etc. It’s obvious who’d  win in such a match-up.

Original Song Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Adele
  • Who Should Win: Adele

I can’t wait to hear her acceptance speech.

Foreign Language Film Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Amour
  • Who Should Win: Amour

The fact that it’s nominated for best picture, best actress, best director and best original screenplay is hint enough.

Zero Dark Thirty [2012] – Movie Review

zero-dark-thirty-poster

Here it is. Arguably the most challenged American movie of the year (a recipe for those little golden statuettes): Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. U.S. Senators of both parties came out against the movie because it portrayed the use of torture in many of its scenes in order to extract information about the whereabouts of Bin Laden. You know, because the CIA surely did not use torture. Ever.

Zero Dark Thirty is the story of CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) on her pursuit of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden over the course of a decade. The torture methods her agency employs, which include but are not exclusive to food and sleep deprivation and waterboarding, lead her to a man called Abou Ahmad Al-Kuwaiti who, for every single non-idiot person out there, obviously comes from Kuwait. Except it’s not as obvious for the movie’s CIA agents who spend more than an hour of the movie’s 157 minutes running time on a manhunt before realizing that – GASP – Al Kuwaiti means he is from Kuwait. As they search for Osama Bin Laden’s main means of communication with the outside world, these CIA agents are faced with people who don’t want them to succeed leading to terrorist bombings in CIA headquarters, of fancy hotels, of different capitals around the world and a lot of exasperated agents who can’t fathom how they would be targeted as such.

It seems the dreadful The Hurt Locker did not satisfy Kathryn Bigelow’s appetite for American neo-political-military-award-magnet-dramas. I mean, why wouldn’t she tackle the same theme in one way or another all over again to become the first female director to win best director at the Oscars twice? Therefore, Bigelow is at it again. And Zero Dark Thirty includes not only every single thing I hated about The Hurt Locker but much, much more as well.

Jessica Chastain’s character Maya is definitely unlikeable. I hated her character to the extent that I couldn’t even appreciate her acting performance. She came off as grating, whining, overly melodramatic at times especially in a shouting scene with a CIA chief in Pakistan when she asks for extra man power in a man hunt that had been proving futile at that point. However, this type of performance is definitely the type to draw in award-voters: a charismatic female character at the heart of a male-dominated institute in the midst of the hunt for the world’s most wanted man? I can hear those voters orgasming already, which is a damn shame because if she ends up winning, she most certainly does not deserve it. Her strongest scene is right at the movie’s end as she silently reflects on the end of this decade-long era of her life. But even that scene’s potency isn’t enough.

One thing to say about Zero Dark Thirty, however, before I start grilling it is that Bigelow does well directing the movie from an “artistic” point of view. Some sequences are very well filmed, especially the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, and the movie is very technically proficient. However, a political movie like Zero Dark Thirty necessitates a politically oriented review. So here it goes.

Zero Dark Thirty is an insult on your intelligence. If there’s any movie which will get you outraged at its inaccuracy, it’s this. As a movie which wants to give itself authenticity by going the whole mile and asking you to “witness the whole truth,” it only comes off as mass propaganda about how the CIA is making the world a better place just by them being there and it portrays all those filthy Arabs living in these parts of the world as the scum of society: Muslim terrorists who can’t wait to blow up some Americans.

As they hunt for Abou Ahmad Al-Kuwaiti in some Pakistani city, the CIA van is stopped by Pakistani men. One of the Pakistanis driving gets out of the van in order to reason with the armed youth. “Shou ya chabeb?” he asks them in arabic – levantine Arabic no less – for: what’s up guys? A simple wikipedia search would have told Mrs. Bigelow that Arabic is, in fact, not spoken in Pakistan or any -stan ending country. But why would she care? Arabic-language, terrorist, Pakistan… it’s all the same for her intended audience. In fact, the movie’s scenes in Pakistan feature less Pakistani than Arabic, which is odd and definitely not “witnessing the truth” or as American critics are saying: “a movie reveling in keen detail.” Since when do Pakistanis speak Levantine Arabic?

The use of Arabic in the movie doesn’t only stop at Pakistan, it extends to various interrogation scenes where someone has to translate to Chastain’s character what the man is saying. Fair enough.

As one of the CIA agents sets up a meeting with a supposed worm within Al-Qaeda around Christmas time, she is found talking to Chastain’s character about baking a cake for the man to which Chastain replies: “Muslims don’t eat Cake.” Really? In fact, the entirety of Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t even bother to draw the line  between a religious extremist and a Muslim: it gets the boundary between the two to be so blurred that it’s so easy to confuse one with the other, making the entire movie not only highly stereotypical but highly nauseating and shallow as well.

For an American viewer, Zero Dark Thirty is definitely fascinating and I was even taken by its earlier scenes before the rhetoric started. American movie critics who don’t understand the other languages spoken in the movie and don’t have the ability to tear the movie apart from a non-cinematic perspective won’t care about the aforementioned points. Arabic, French, Pakistani – who cares? American movie critics believe that the way the hunt for Bin Laden was dramatized is chilling. They believe that the movie is politically non-biased. For those of us who can actually read into Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, it only comes off as severely culturally-inaccurate and offensive.

Bin Laden was a bad man. He killed a lot of innocent people and I’m glad he’s dead. The CIA and whichever other intelligence agencies that helped the Americans to catch that filth of a man need to be commanded for their job. But this movie is not the way. Zero Dark Thirty wants to be the definite movie about the Bin Laden manhunt. Bigelow wants the honor of being the first and last director to tackle this issue. But that is far from the case. Again, while technically proficient, the movie is not perfect. It is too slow at times and at other times, when it moves, it is only like an arthritic ninety year old man. The first twenty minutes of torturing a Saudi are chilling to watch. They are followed by almost 90 minutes of scenes that might as well be considered as an antidote to insomnia before delivering again with the Bin Laden killing scene.

By aiming to be technically proficient, Zero Dark Thirty undercuts itself by becoming emotionally detached from the material it’s trying to portray. By showing torture scenes that more often than not lead to no-tactical results, the movie is amoral. By turning the entire struggle of all of 9/11’s victims, as it starts with real-life audio from the twin towers on that horrible day, into a vehicle for Chastain and Bigelow to cash in on some rewards, the movie is also despicable. By portraying every single non-American aspect of the movie in such gross inaccurate ways, Zero Dark Thirty is horrendous. Zero Dark Thirty is, eventually, over two and a half hours of pure propaganda that is not only offensive to the memory of the Americans who died on 9/11 but to a lot of viewer’s mental capacities.

You know what’s common between Bin Laden and Zero Dark Thirty? They are both horrifyingly bad and an abomination to existence.

1/5

 

 

Titanic 3D – Movie Review

15 years later, the 3D version of Titanic is here, with a few days remaining until the centennial anniversary of the ship’s demise. Can you believe it has been 15 years since Titanic was released? In my head, it feels like only a few years ago that I was a little boy amid the hype of Titanic where every single person I know was talking about that movie.

84 years after Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, an old woman named Rose (Gloria Stewart) sets to tell her story as treasure hunters search for a diamond necklace named “The Heart of the Ocean,” believed to be last seen aboard the ship. In 1912, Rose’s earlier self (Kate Winslet) is a rich first-class girl, engaged to Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) who wants nothing of her but to be his trophy wife. Feeling suffocated after boarding Titanic, the most luxurious ship at the time, she tries to jump off deck, only to be stopped by Jack Dawson (Leonardo Dicaprio). “You jump, I jump” is the line. Soon after, Rose and Jack strike a young romance that blossoms over the coming days, until Titanic meets its fate when it hits an iceberg and goes down in the Atlantic abyss, taking the lives of 1500 out of its 2200 passengers with it.

The last time I had watched Titanic was 1998. So I was revisiting it with more or less a blank slate – what I remembered was very minimal. And the movie managed to surprise me in 2012, as it must have done in 1998. Leaving your prejudice aside – the fact that Titanic became such a talked-about movie doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie to begin with. It wouldn’t have won 11 Oscars and went on to become one the highest grossing movies of all time (the highest grossing movie of all time, in fact, for over 12 years) had it been a bad movie. But as it is with pop culture, the more popular something becomes, the more people feel they need to oppose it to have a relevant opinion. This is the case with Titanic.

The thing about Titanic is that it is still a ground breaking movie, even today. Leave the cheesy love story aside, you can’t but be taken in by how detailed James Cameron’s portrayal of the ship is. He actually built a 90% to scale replica, down to the most minute of details: the stairs, the porcelain china, the chairs, etc. That level of precision never goes unnoticed. The 3D conversion only serves to intensify that. Many movies are hurt by being converted to 3D. Titanic is not. The conversion contributes to immersing you in its feel, making you part of what was happening on the ship as it sailed to its doom – the ship snapping in half, the people swimming, trying to fight for their life, only to be left as frozen corpses; the sense of despair, injustice and ultimately life – all of these are increased. The 3D conversion doesn’t take away from the movie’s value. It doesn’t cheapen it with silly gimmicks. It adds depth.

Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio’s roles have become iconic over the years. Titanic is the movie that propelled a 21 year old Dicaprio and a 20 year old Winslet at the time to the status they are in today. Billy Zane, on the other hand, has never managed to shake off the image that Cal gave to him. In fact, Titanic’s screenplay, which in typical Cameron fashion gets weak at some points with redundant lines and flagrant loopholes (which you actually notice this time around), is held together by the strength of its cast, relatively unknown people at the time, making the screenplay’s weaknesses irrelevant somehow. 15 years later, you can’t really write a critique of their performances that gives them justice. And in retrospect, the Academy Awards have really messed up by not nominating Dicaprio for best actor at the time.

Titanic‘s musical score is still among my favorite movie scores, even 15 years later. James Horner’s Hymn to the Sea has to be one of the most chilling compositions produced for a movie. Hearing Titanic‘s music, with its Scottish influences and maritime feel, in a movie theatre cannot but be considered an experience in itself.

My advice for you is to check your prejudice at the door and give this movie a very needed second chance. Odds are you’ll be surprised. At the end of the day, it’s really difficult not to sympathize with the ordeal the characters go through and the magnitude of the tragedy on screen. Titanic, the movie that broke boundaries in 1997, doesn’t feel outdated in 2012 – in fact, it actually feels current and much better than most movies being released nowadays. As that final scene rolls, you can’t but feel absorbed in Titanic. Seeing the sight of the ruined ship and thinking about all the lives lost with it will stay in your thoughts long after your take off your 3D glasses. Titanic has the same effect on audiences as it had 15 years ago and that is the mark of a great movie.

9/10