Sunday, November 22, 2009

Spotlight on the Arab World

1948 and the question of land...

Tick Tock. 1948. Silence. A minute later, chaos. Many Palestinians left, or were forced to leave, their homes in 1948 with the hopes of returning one day but their ownership documents are meaningless because legally now their homes belong to someone else. So what happens when all the surviving members of 1948 are gone? Annemarie Jacir provides one answer to that question in Salt of the Sea by showing an example of a third generation exile who keeps the memories of pre-1948 alive. In the film, Soraya leaves her home in Brooklyn to visit her grandfather’s land and retrieve his money. However, the bank can no longer hand over the money because in their eyes that old Palestinian branch no longer exists. So Soraya decides to rob the bank along with two accomplices. What follows is a road movie but in this case, the road passes through non-existent towns and streets because the old Palestinian towns are either renamed or in ruins. What remains of the original towns? Only their memories. After the original generation of 1948 has perished, only memories will remain about streets, houses and the smell of oranges.

Border and Checkpoints

In both The Syrian Bride & Rana's Wedding, a woman’s marriage plans are strained due to the presence of border and checkpoints respectively.

 In The Syrian Bride, the border in question is between Syria and Israel (Golan Heights) while it is the various checkpoints dividing the Palestinian landscape that cause a problem in Rana’s Wedding. Interestingly, in both movies the bride is played by Clara Khoury. Completing the border/marriage trilogy is Randa Chahal Sabag’s The Kite which shows a girl’s relationship effected by the border between Israel and Lebanon.

Three different films but all tied together by images of a female foiled by man made borders. The following image of a bride in a white dress heading towards the border in The Kite can be found in The Syrian Bride as well.

Internal problems
Sometimes one’s problems are not created by a border but by friction within a nation’s boundaries. The two Algerian films Barakat and Rachida show how the consequences of internal struggle can effect the daily lives of people.

In Barakat it is civil war while in Rachida it is terrorism that causes fear in the population. In both films, women are the main characters who overcome their fear and find new strength to carry on.  Interestingly, both films are also tied in another way -- the lead actress of Barakat is Rachida Brakni and her first name forms the title and character name of the other film.

Youth and life on the streets

The Moroccan film Ali Zaoua packs quite a punch in depicting the life of streets kids in Casablanca. While it is heart breaking to see young kids miss their childhood and head straight into an adult life of gangs and crime, credit must be given to director Nabil Ayouch for balancing the harsh street realities with a fantasy tale. The fantasy tale, which forms the basis of the title character’s quest to find an elusive land with two suns, lends a sprinkling of hope to the film. Such is the strength of Ali Zaoua’s belief that his friends go to great lengths to fulfill his wish and in turn give their lives a purpose as well.

All about the girl and some falafel...

The soothing lyrics of Yasmine Hamdan’s "Lili s’en fout" liven up the opening moments of Michel Kammoun’s charming and enjoyable Falafel. Whenever Hamdan’s voice comes on, we find the main character of Tou in a happy state. Tou has valid reason to be happy, especially when he learns that Yasmin will be at the party that he plans to attend. The night is progressing the way Tou planned but a series of incidents turn things on their head. After an altercation in a parking lot, a man strikes Tou’s face with a gun and leaves his face scarred. But the scar is more than skin deep and the violent incident eats away at Tou and he wants revenge. He manages to get a gun illegally and despite advice from his friends to cool down, he is determined to use his gun. However, he is saved in the most unlikely way thanks to the mystical powers of a rebel falafel. Yes, a falafel. It is true. Anything can happen in a magical night in Beirut.

What a Wonderful World

It is indeed a wonderful world. Every frame of Faouzi Bensaïdi ‘s What a Wonderful World is poetic and beautiful. Even though the wonderful individual parts of the film do not add up to a coherent whole, it is hard to resist the charms of this unique film. What a Wonderful World is a mesmerizing mix of a French comedy (references to Jacques Tati), a Spy spoof, a musical and a love story.

Films seen as part of this spotlight and in order of preference:

Salt of the Sea (2007, Palestine co-production, Annemarie Jacir)
What a Wonderful World (2007, France/Morocco, Faouzi Bensaïdi)
Ali Zaoua (2000, Morocco co-production, Nabil Ayouch)
Falafel (2004, Lebanon/France, Michel Kammoun)
Rachida (2002, Algeria/France, Yamina Bachir)
Enough! (2006, Algeria, Djamila Sahraoui)
The Kite (2003, Lebanon co-production, Randa Chahal Sabag)

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