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Festival About DIFF Policies Connect
DIFFDIFF Journal 2017Arab Cinema Shines at Venice
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Arab Cinema Shines at Venice
Sun Sep 3, 2017
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It’s a landmark year for Arab cinema and particularly Lebanese cinema as two feature films head to the Lido – an unprecedented presence for it so far. In competition, Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult tackles controversial themes of racial and religious animosities in the Middle East while Mazen Khaled’s Martyr is one of three films – and the only Arab film – playing in the Biennale College Cinema, a section the festival dedicates to young auteurs whose future in cinema is promising.

Out of Competition, Algerian director Rachid Hami brings his first feature film La Melodie (The Melody) to the Lido. The film focuses on a distinguished but disillusioned violinist. In around 2 hours, the film explores the tremendous impact music can have on one’s life in unexpected and surprising ways. Featuring a strong ensemble cast (Kad Merad, Samir Guesmi and Shirel Nataf), the film is touching, vibrant and joyful.

Both Lebanese films playing at the fest (The Insult and Marytr) share a common, gritty narrative and gutsy storylines that stay far and away from the typical feel-good/romantic structures that commercial Arab cinema goes for, particularly in Egypt and Lebanon which are two of the region’s strongest box office markets for local films.

It comes as a no surprise that Lebanese filmmakers are yearning for original, powerful stories to tell, and are not afraid to depict societal flaws and highlight troubling concerns that makes their cinematic voices all the more pivotal.

In The Insult, Ziad Doueiri addresses the Lebanese-Palestinian animosities through a story that is reminiscent of Iran’s socio-political dramas such as A Separation. Taking place in a small Christian Lebanese town, The Insult tells the story of a 40-something mechanic who is expecting a baby girl and is trying to make ends meet. Things take an unexpectedly dark turn when he enters into a war of words with a Palestinian worker. Unlike many Arab films which gloss over the subject, Doueiri never shies away from depicting the anger residents of this small Lebanese town have against Palestinians and he opts for a full-on documentation of a massacre led by allegedly Palestinian militias that have killed thousands of the town residents in the 1970s. Ever since then, the town went on a hate wave and its residents were never able to let go of their agony and anger against Palestinians.

Doueiri uses historical facts and blends them with drama and the result is a courtroom drama that is gripping, revealing if not a bit overlong. The film is quite timely and relevant to today’s world where hate, racism and anger is everywhere. Contrast that with a time where art and culture were dreamy and optimistic, Doueiri’s film shows how much important cinema’s role is today. Not so much to entertain but rather to wake up societies and provoke a deep self-examination to address the reasons why anger is ruling so many societies.

Featuring a strong performance by prominent Lebanese TV presenter Adel Karam, the film will be premiering at the Telluride Film Festival, one of the Key Oscar launchpads in the world, this Labor Day weekend.

Moving on to Martyr, Mazen Khaled kicks off what is sure to be an impressive career in film. Like The Insult, Khaled isn’t afraid to tackle dark stories that may not be as joyful or comforting as mainstream Lebanese fare.

The film takes place close to the Beirut corniche which overlooks a spectacular rocky shore. Young men come from all suburbs and neighborhoods whose streets are plastered with posters of martyrs and soldiers. They come to the shore, hoping for an escape, for some moments of forgetfulness, sheer joy and simple happiness amidst a climate of poverty, marginality and hopelessness. Khaled finds the beauty in even the harshest scenes and cleverly uses the sea as a symbol of liberty for those men. The film reexamines who a real martyr is – is it someone who dies in a war, fight or battle for his country or religion, or are these men – the protagonists of his story – also martyrs especially when one of them dies diving in this rocky shore after society pushes him to the edge? A fascinating look at the lives of the marginalized class in Lebanon today and an artistic depiction of fear, anxiety, despair and peer pressure among today’s youth.
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