BEIRUT: Among the curiosities of the 2018 Cairo International Film Festival, one was Lebanese: Of the four features on show from this country, three of them, directed by Nibal Arakji, Bahij Hojeij and Lucien Bourjeily, were explicitly about senior citizens, or featured central characters from that demographic. Of these Arakji’s “Wanted” (“Matloubin”), which had its Beirut premiere Thursday evening, most self-consciously targets Lebanon’s popular audience.
This wafer-light road movie follows four oldsters who embark on a comic adventure with a sentimental mission. Arakji’s film (which the director also produced and scripted) is littered with Lebanon in-jokes, but its bread and butter is a series of incongruous gags showing senior citizens doing young-people things.
The film opens at an old-age home somewhere in the mountains above Beirut, where some residents are enjoying an evening of doubles bingo. The camera settles upon a couple of ladies grumbling about how Doodie and Adib (Daad Rizk, Georges Diab) win every hand.
A harridan with a pocket-sized dog storms into the lounge to break up the bingo and shoos her inmates to bed. This is Amar (Aida Sabra), the director of the home. Thanks to her the facility resembles a prison more than a place anyone would want to pass their final years.
Amar’s staff strictly enforce a one room-one body rule, but Adib likes sneaking into Doodie’s place after lights-out to give her a foot massage.
A restless ladies man, he courts Doodie while sending a bouquet of flowers to her rival Georgette. Cue a conversation between an elderly lady and her girlfriend. “I want to seduce this guy,” she says, holding up pairs of expansive bloomers. “Which underwear should I wear?”
The film’s more retiring (less comic) couple is Jacko and Walid (Siham Haddad, Georges Boukhalil). The archetype of a neglected grandfather, Walid shuffles everywhere with a walker and an oxygen tank, awaiting a visit from his son that never happens.
Early on, Amar gives him a dressing down in front of the rest of the residents because his family is late paying his rent at the home.
Sunny, with a ribbon perpetually in her hair, Jacko drives the plot. One day she receives a letter informing her that a developer has acquired the plot of land where her husband is buried. His remains must be relocated to make way for a shopping mall.
Doodie, Adib, and Walid decide to help Jacko prevent this desecration. Cleverly evading the cameras situated throughout the home, the four protagonists steal Amar’s car and set off for Beirut.
(Naturally Madame Directress is less concerned about her inmates’ well-being than the loss of her car. She complains to the ISF and later, in a gag sure to elude anyone innocent of Lebanon, is informed the vehicle’s been sighted in Brital, where all stolen cars go to be repurchased.)
Doodie, Adib, Walid and Jacko soon find themselves without money. Cue a series of set pieces that audiences may find funny or merely farcical: panhandling and dabke busking on the seaside Corniche; wandering into a gym for a spell of treadmill, Adib chats up a pillow-lipped prostitute (Myriam Klink), who later returns to save the day; shoplifting food and water from a grocery store Jacko finds an item leaking beneath her clothes and loudly declares that her water’s broken; stealing the collection plate from a church; faking a heart attack to avoid paying for a meal in a restaurant, then swiping the ambulance. Asking for a cigarette in a bar, Doodie finds herself smoking hash and loving it.
Thanks to social media and the ISF, these adventures all lead someplace meant to make you smile.
“Wanted” is in wide release in Beirut-area theaters.