• January 31, 2023

Two Works by a Great Lebanese Filmmaker on Netflix

Netflix is ​​a cinematic rummage: some authentic treasures shine tantalizingly on a heap of rubbish lurking with even rarer gems – but it does require some digging. Reader, I’ve dug – and found that Netflix has a range of several dozen Lebanese films from the past fifty years, at least two of which are extraordinary amalgamations of imagination and observation. Both films “to whisper, “From 1980 and”The little wars, ”As of 1982, are by the same director, Maroun Bagdadi; The first is a documentary and the other is fiction, but both remarkably show the same person – photojournalist Nabil Ismaïl, who is a subject in “Whispers” and an actor in “The Little Wars” – in an overlap that is Baghdadi’s original approach illustrated in both forms.

“To whisper”

The documentary follows the poet Nadia Tueni on her journey through Lebanon, which at the time was physically and emotionally devastated after five years of civil war. The format is something like a virtual, fictional road movie, although the drama does not lie in a specific narrative, but in the question of the immediate future of Lebanon. Death is in the air from the start – at a gathering of young people, a man sings a melancholy ballad of a mother’s mourning for a son killed in war, and the song continues on the soundtrack as Baghdadi shows images of bombings on a city . from buildings and rubble streets. Tueni and Ismaïl wander through the desolate cityscape, the labyrinth of the ruins of Beirut, while Ismaïl takes photos. Then Ismaïl plunges alone into the busy heart of a market street, in an extended and exciting hand recording, which is accompanied by his voice-over, which – like the voice-over in Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah”- creates a virtual picture of the past that, fused with observations of the present, makes the past seem more present than what is seen on the screen.

In her own voice-overs, with her tormented and decisive reflections on civil war and bourgeois life, Tueni expresses her basic idea: “One country, one nation ends”. For the remainder of the film, she does her best, dedicated and hopefully, to refute her own grim reflection. On her travels, she interviews people from different backgrounds about the fate of the country and their own perspectives. With a feeling for cinematic composition that is just as keen as his investigative enthusiasm and emotional sensitivity, Baghdadi often films the interview topics from behind or in motion and emphasizes their connection with their surroundings. at other times, he roots their ideas in a sense of place, turning their conversations into voice-overs for fervent, ruefully watched images of the wounded land.

In the Bekaa Valley, Tueni speaks to farmers and attends a school where young children are indoctrinated in national unity. In Baalbek she visits a hotelier who keeps the business open despite the absence of tourists, an artist and his young niece who wants to become a doctor, port manager, street newspaper seller, entrepreneur and cinema manager, members of a dance group and even athletes who have brought back horse races – collect their thoughts on surviving the war and rebuilding the country and hear their expressions of patriotic unity. Visiting a nightclub in the capital, Tueni realizes that the night owls are “actors who want to forget” and that “the Saturday night fever that exists in the world exists every night in Beirut”. She describes the fear she sees in her party, the despair in her longing.

The hope that some express is refuted by a musician named Ziad, who declares that even in times of relative peace, the causes and specifics of civil war cannot be publicly discussed or openly confronted for fear of provoking new violence. and that this inability to face the underlying problems is itself a likely source of new struggles. The expansive mood that Baghdadi finds in Beirut’s young people seems to believe in such pessimism. The film later returns to the young people gathering it started with – and now the group is festive and bubbly, the musician plays a brisk tune and a young woman is dancing exuberantly. Baghdadi follows Tueni to a school auditorium where a pop-rock band rehearses and to an outdoor festival where the group plays in front of an enthusiastic young audience. But shortly before the credits, Baghdadi offers a coup de cinema, which is edited with shocking assertiveness: stills of close-ups of the young festival goers, which are interspersed with images of the bombed out buildings and the streets littered with rubble. This terrible and devastating ending, a montage of premonition, hit me like the apocalyptic stills at the end of “Failsafe”- it looks back at the entire course of the film. Far from being hopeful, “whisper” is a self-questioning poetic meditation on lack of hope – it is a work of hope on the possibility of hope, and it reaches its many levels of introspective reflection and far-reaching observation with a refined one and a complicated sense of cinematic composition.

“The Little Wars”

In “The Little Wars” from 1982, Baghdadi’s cinematic imagination is less evident in his style than in his fine, fragile control over tone and sense of narrative, disturbing detail.Source: Netflix

In this dramatic feature film, Baghdadi reveals the daily, deadly details of the civil war that no participant in the documentary dares to specify. He does this neither ideologically nor historically, and he does not pursue the policy of conflict; Rather, he looks at anarchy and violence, the moral and immoral choices, the filthy secrets and intimate betrayals on which every murder, kidnapping, vengeance depends – and the aimless, fruitless absurdity of life and death in the face of such chaos. The film is set in Beirut (a title card at the beginning says it takes place in 1975 when the fighting started) and revolves around a loose triangle of young people: a woman named Thurayya (played by Soraya Khoury, the director’s wife;; IMDb also names the character Soraya, who is just trying to avoid the conflict and is in love with Talal (Roger Hawa), who has distanced himself from her by engaging in the fights of a faction. Meanwhile, photojournalist Nabil (Nabil Ismaïl) is in love with her and tries to pique her interest during her estrangement from Talal.

From the beginning, the characters’ daily life has been sunk in grief – they mourn a friend who joined the fighting (left his lover) and was soon killed. The streets are thick with roadblocks created by armed men. A taxi driver apostrophizes for kidnapping and reprisals in the name of face rescue. Talal comes from a wealthy family; His father, a notable Beirut, has been kidnapped and Talal’s mother (Reda Khoury) calls him to the family home in the Bekaa Valley. But Nabil’s war is different: he is a small drug dealer who owes his supplier money and has a little more than a week to pay. With no further prospect, he joins Talal in order to kidnap a rich man from an opposing faction to exchange him for Talal’s father. Instead, he plans to demand a ransom, which he will use to pay off the drug lord.

The sound of gunshots is the ambient soundtrack to city life. Fighters casually carry machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades through the streets; The roofs are attacked by snipers. A hospital lobby becomes an emergency room when friends of a shooting victim hold nurses at gunpoint. Part of the entertainment one evening is shooting out the letters on the roof of an office building. A bar fight escalates into an act of war – and Nabil tragically increases his private danger into political heroism, even if he pursues his journalistic career with frivolous vanity.

Baghdadi’s cinematic imagination shows itself less in his style than in his fine, fragile control over tone and sense of narrative, disturbing detail. He films the action with an angry and fragile mixture of intense compassion and remorseful disdain; His eye and ear for the screeching fear behind silent conversations are surpassed by his anger at the careless cruelty and ruthless violence of ideologues and profiteers alike. (The agile camera with sharp eyes comes from Heinz Hölscher and the American cameraman Edward Lachman.) War is the devastating result of men who play in war. The ruin of the country is as heartbreaking as it is ridiculous. Accordingly, the film features one of the most ridiculous heartless murders in all of cinema and a chase that blends sincere passion and deadly menace with the clumsiness of the keystone cops. “The Little Wars” is a film with no future, which is produced in the abyss between life and survival. The only element of hope is the title card at the beginning – the assertion and desire that it is not a film of the present but of the past.

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Jack

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