BEIRUT: The zombie apocalypse of political negligence, swelling poverty and economic contraction staggers on. Happily, Lebanon’s COVID numbers have dropped. With them (as Clown Me In forecast in a public service announcement some months back) fades the pandemic’s power to distract us from the zombies.
Fortunately, for those who can still afford it, the cinemas have reopened.
A popular online aggregator suggests that scrubbed and sanitised multiplexes are serving up movies designed for diversion. There’s “Cruella” (Disney’s GMO cross of “101 Dalmatians” and “The Devil Wears Prada”) and “Voyagers,” an attractive-people-in-space thriller; there’s yet another “Fast and Furious” flick (the franchise’s ninth), the latest big-ticket Daniel-Craig-is-James Bond movie, another Jason Statham punch-up, a “John Wick” knockoff, and a few animated features, one of them a sequel.
Anyone interested in seeing something else may be pleased to know that Metropolis Art Cinema has resumed its exhibition schedule with “To Palestine with Love,” a cycle of recent and less-recent films that touch upon facets of this country’s relationship with its long-occupied southern neighbor. Admission is free of charge, with a reservation.
Lebanon’s most-tenacious independent cinema has been relatively quiet in recent months, having lost its two screening halls at Centre Sofil before the pandemic made interior projections irresponsible anyway. Starting Friday 4 June, “To Palestine with Love” will be projected in three venues – Hamra’s Masrah al-Madina, Tayyouneh’s Dawar al-SHAMS, and Ishbilia Theater and Art Hub, in Saida.
The cycle includes fictions and docs, features and shorts. In a first, Metropolis has partnered with the Arab Image Foundation in programming a short film selection. Presented as part of a series of events organized around International Archives Day, the three-title program is comprised of works donated to AIF’s audiovisual library. In one way or another all touch upon archives, and Palestine.
Basma Alsharif’s 2007 video artwork “Everywhere was the Same” juxtaposes a slideshow of abandoned places and the story of a paradise that undergoes an apocalypse. Fouad Elkhoury’s “Jours tranquilles en Palestine,” 1998, uses still images shot before 1948 to excavate a sense of peacetime Palestine, before the settler colonial state made its landscape synonymous with violence and suffering. Samar Kanafani’s “Mounzer,” 2003, is a fictive interview with a young man, a former Palestinian combatant, and the injuries the occupying army inflicted upon his body.
The shorts program of “To Palestine with Love” will be projected once only, at 7 p.m. on June 10 at Dawar al-SHAMS.
The cycle’s features include thematically appropriate titles that Metropolis had intended to premiere in Beirut before the country’s political and banking elite upended everyone’s plans for 2020.
“Palestine with Love” will host the delayed Lebanon premiere of “It Must Be Heaven,” Elia Suleiman’s long-awaited fourth feature, which debuted in Cannes’ main competition in 2019. It resembles its three predecessors inasmuch as it offers a quietly comic tale centred on the bemused ES, Suleiman’s cinematic alter ego.
Opening in Nazareth, Suleiman’s film follows ES on his travels outside Palestine – first to Paris, then to New York before returning to the family home. The film is interested in mining the dry comic potential of the diaspora experience, but not exclusively so. Much of the film’s amusement hinges on perceptions of French and American culture and their eccentricities.
Also debuting in Beirut during this cycle is Ameen Nayfeh’s “200 Meters,” which premiered at Venice in 2020, where it won the People’s Choice Audience Award in the Venice Days competition. It too is a road movie, but of quite a different kind as it’s set in Palestine proper.
Mustafa (Ali Suliman) is a young father whose wife and kids live on one side of the Israeli wall while he lives on the other, a couple of hundred metres distant. This premise underlines the geographical segmentation that’s a central feature of occupation, and the plot is preoccupied with the obstructed movement that Mustafa faces daily – whether the banal navigation of the turnstiles of the Tulkarm checkpoint or being forced to hire a smuggler to get him across when his son is hospitalised.
“Palestine with Love” also offers audiences a chance to revisit Mai Masri’s 2015 feature debut “3000 Nights.” It tells the story of Layal (Maisa Abd Elhadi), a young newlywed arrested on a trumped up charges by the Israeli army and sentenced to eight years in prison. As Layal soon realizes she’s pregnant, Masri’s film becomes a story of resilience, as prison authorities try to use the child as a tool to make to spy on her fellow prisoners.
Raed Andoni’s 2017 “Ghost Hunting” is a very different incarceration story. The nonfiction film documents Andoni’s project to gather group of former prison detainees to reconstruct Israel’s notorious Moskubiyya facility, and to recreate the experience of being prisoners, and prison guards there.
The cycle also includes Oualid Mouaness’ feature film debut “1982,” returning to the screen after a brief pandemic season just south of Beirut. Mouaness’ somewhat autobiographical 2019 film is a coming-of-age tale focusing on a day in the life of 11-year-old Wissam (Mohamad Dalli), who’s struggling with his crush on his classmate Joanna.
His is one of a cluster of love stories seething in an elementary/high school in the hills above Beirut on the day that the Israeli army launched its second invasion/occupation of Lebanon.
Randa Chahal Sabbag’s 2001 doc “Souha, Surviving Hell” is a profile of Souha Bechara, the young communist who infiltrated the household of Antoine Lahd (leader of the South Lebanon Army, the Israeli occupation’s principal Lebanese collaborators) with the aim of assassinating him. He survived the attack, alas, and Bechara was imprisoned for a decade in Israel’s Khiam detention centre, where she withstood a decade of humiliation and torture before international pressure secured her release.
Admission to “To Palestine with Love” is free of charge but requires a reservation, and audiences must be masked during projections, in compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures. For projection schedule, see: https://www.metropoliscinema.net/page/events/