JERUSALEM, April 8 (JMCC) - From all star musicals to war-time documentaries, the Lebanese Film Week, being hosted until April 20th by the Palestinian National Theater, is a veritable feast of alternative cinema.
One of the program’s most renowned films, Caramel, is actress and music video director Nabine Labaki’s first feature length film, and a stunningly-shot glimpse into the lives of five very different women in a beauty salon in Beirut.
“[The war] has been so over-analyzed,” Labaki explains, “It was important for me to show another side of Lebanon. We are a people who are colorful, who have a very strong will to live and survive and have a sense of humor.”
The title refers to the caramel that Lebanese women use to wax: delicious in taste, but part of a quest for beauty that sometimes makes one suffer. Bittersweet, like much of the film itself, as it poignantly captures truths about relationships, sex and love.
A woman’s place in society is also tackled in “When Mariam Spoke Out,” a true story about one woman’s struggle to cope with familial and societal pressures in the wake of discovering that she is infertile. In this first -- and so far only -- feature-length film from director Assad Fouladkar, Bernadette Hadeeb plays protagonist Mariam to perfection, unraveling the often provocative narrative in the classical form of a love letter to her husband.
“Silina,” a spectacular and glittering musical, deals with fantasy rather than reality. Based on the popular 1960s Lebanese operetta “Hala and the King” by the Rahbani brothers, it follows a young girl (played by Lebanese singer, Miriam Fares) who gives the citizens of Silina the opportunity to speak honestly while disguised in the masks she sells, causing drama to rapidly unfold.
War, however, which has defined Lebanon for so many generations, and which manages to define films even through its absence, is the dominating theme of the movies on offer.
“Falafel,” both a comedy and a drama by turn, is about, “the contradiction which is in everyday life,” remarks director Michel Kammoun. “We like to enjoy life, and at the same time we are living above a volcano... a violence that could explode at any second.”
According to one stall owner in the film: “Each man has his own piece of falafel. That's what we call fate.”
Echoing a common sentiment about Lebanon’s post-civil war emptiness and the younger generation’s tendency to fill it with partying, “Falafel” portrays one young man’s journey to the other side of life in Beirut, all set to Toufic Farroukh’s brilliantly original soundtrack.
“A Perfect Day” is about the ghosts of those lost in war -- whether ex-girlfriends or husbands -- and the struggle to tread the line between honoring their memory, and letting go and moving on. Co-director Khalil Joreige’s uncle was one of 17,000 who disappeared without a trace during the Lebanese Civil War.
It is also, according to other co-director, Joana Hadijthomas, about Lebanon’s “state of latency. The present is hard to live in, or else lived out 'hysterically' in the nights of Beirut, where people go out to forget themselves.”
The most moving film being shown, however, must be Philipe Aractingi’s award-winning “Under the Bombs,” half shot in real-time, during the 2006 Lebanon war with Israel.
It is in this film that we truly grasp the horror of the loss of innocent life, as we follow a mother, helped by a taxi driver, looking for her sister and son in the ruins of Lebanon’s south.
“War is part of the [Lebanese] destiny,” comments Aractingi. “There it is part of their being, but they take it with a lot of dignity.” As an old Lebanese man says during the film: “The land shakes but does not fall.”
Despite clear opportunity for political opinion, the film is not about blame or anger. “I felt I should do it without hatred of the other,” adds Aractingi, “the one doing the shelling. The war puts you in a position where you automatically have feelings of hatred. It was the people who are dying who brought me to this film.”
The Palestinian National Theatre often puts on such events, ranging from theatre to cinema, all with the aim of promoting the arts for the Palestinian and international community in East Jerusalem
“We are trying to activate a culture of going out,” explains theater general manager Jamal Goshesh, “which isn’t a very strong habit here in East Jerusalem. People like to watch TV, which is easier and cheaper. The habit of coming to the cinema in a big group has been in decline since the first Intifada
“Funding is one of the main problems we are facing,” he continues. “Many institutions here are closing down because of a lack of funding, but we are trying to stay open, trying to create and nurture life here.”
Other films in the program include “Bosta,” about seven schoolmates reunited after 15 years touring Lebanon with their unique techno-Dabkah dance; “Zozo,” a 10-year-old orphaned boy’s integration into Swedish society after fleeing Lebanon; and “Ring of Fire,” a brief encounter in a pitch-black bomb-shelter, and a quest to find lost love mid-war.For more information visit www.pnt-pal.org. All films are screened in Arabic, with either English or French subtitles.