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:

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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.