The good the bad and the ugly

- La Vie En Rose

Ludovic is convinced God made a mistake. He should really have been born a girl. He likes dresses and dollies and at the tender age of seven is already a dab hand at putting on his lipstick.

His parents are bemused but supportive: “It’s normal until seven,” says Hanna “I read it in Marie Claire.” Unfortunately the neighbours don’t seem to agree and when Ludo falls in love with the son of the bigot next door, who is also Pierre’s boss, the dark side of life in his Better Homes and Gardens suburb begins to emerge.

Ludo turns to fantasy to escape the hate and prejudice that threaten to destroy his happy home and escapes to the world of Pam, a flaxen-haired UberBarbie who lives in an acid-coloured Candyland where little boys who want to marry other little boys are part of God’s Wonderful Plan.

Back in reality, life is much bloodier. Ludo is first ostracised and then beaten by his peers, this low point coming at a time when the family ties are greatly strained.

Is it a phase or does Ludo know what he wants? How will his family cope with his refusal to see things their way? Will his neighbours learn to accept this self-confessed “girl-boy” ?

Ma Vie is a bitter-sweet swipe at the tyranny of gender roles and raises some very important issues along the way. But because it never loses its sense of humour, even during the darkest moments, it manages to educate without appearing to do so. In the end, Ma Vie is less about nascent sexuality than it is about the right of every child to become whom they want to be. In that respect at least, this is a film with a message for everyone.

- Welcome To Sarajevo

This is the kind of film that makes you wish you had stayed at home. Set in 1992 at the height of the siege, the film is about the destruction of a nation and the cynical betrayal of Bosnia by the West.

The post-acid soundtrack neatly captures the drug-induced delusions of peace washing around western Europe at the time and is superbly ironic when juxtaposed with scenes of carnage. Welcome includes real  news footage of the war and recurring scenes of Western leaders weaselling their way through mealy-mouthed excuses are particularly distasteful. But this is not news.

Welcome is also the story of a British journalist, played by Stephan Dillane, who becomes torn between his duty to maintain an objective distance and his impulse as a human being to help those in need. A rare bird, the journalist with a heart, Dillane finds himself dragged into saving the life of Emira, a young orphan girl whom he meets on one of his assignments.

But it is not the story of how this war could have happened in the first place and the few local characters either degenerate into gangsters or fall foul of snipers. Dillane’s mild-mannered driver confesses to the tight-lipped New Man that he has killed and that it was surprisingly easy: “It was a kind of catharsis”. From the look on his face, Dillane does not understand.

Perhaps the film is a cry against the apathy which reduced this conflict to a spectator sport. But by focusing on the destruction and barbarity of this war, Welcome misses an opportunity to enlighten its audience. In the end, the heavy-handed emphasis on blood-letting and bullet-riddled buildings is counter-productive and verges on voyeurism. Worse, it can only confirm the oft-quoted evasion that “Balkan” is synonymous with slaughter.

If the premise of this overly-dramatic film is to make the world feel guilty, it works, if only fleetingly. No opportunity is lost to hammer home this point. But viewed in this light, Dillane’s rescue of Emira, seem like an apologists’ attempt to salve a continent’s guilty conscience. ­ WSB

The term “documentary” has sounded the death knell for many fine films. Documentary film falls into the awkward region between reportage and entertainment. “Feature film”, even if the director has some serious intent in mind, is synonymous with entertainment, even escape. A good marketing job and a smutty photo can resurrect even the worst feature film at the video store. Reportage can make you feel uncomfortable, but the sound bites tend to blend into the cigarette ads after a while. The purpose of the documentary is to make you look at something unpleasant or take a second look at things the sound bites can’t tell you. Their very nature makes it difficult to get documentary film screened.

Fortunately, a small sample of some local documentary film is being presented at the Beirut International Film Festival this year. The four films being screened run the gamut from the lyrical to the factual, from the tragic to the comic. All the films deserve more exposure than they’ve had. All four received their first screenings at the festival this weekend, but if you missed them the first time around you can still see them on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon at the Sodeco Square cinemas.

-Living Icons & Kidnappé

The two films that seem most “documentary” as the term is classically defined are Dimitri Khodr’s Living Icons and Bahij Hojeij’s Kidnappé. Khodr’s 52-minute film looks at the Christian community in Iran. This film is of more than academic interest in Lebanon, given the place of Shi’ism in this country. Living Icons provides us with a classic insider’s look at the Armenian and Assyrian orthodox communities. The broad sample of people interviewed provides us with an interesting picture of the changing place of one religious minority in an Islamic republic since the revolution. The interviews are in Farsi and English, but there are French subtitles. If Khodr’s film sets out to inform, the purpose of Bahij Hojeij’s Kidnappé is to ensure that the Lebanese and the world do not forget. For 51 minutes Hojeij introduces us to the families of those who disappeared during the later stages of the civil war. The style of these interviews does not pretend to be objective. The testimonials become more emotional as the film proceeds, the film maker lingers over these moments of desolation, as if in an effort to impress them upon our brains.

- Destinée & Majnounak,

The two more creative documentaries are Muhammad Soueid’s Destinée; and Majnounak, by Akram Zaatari. Destinée is easily the more understated and artistic of the two pieces. This 13-minute faux family history traces the efforts of the narrator’s grandfather to take advantage of the tools at his disposal to win the woman he loves. This is a film-maker’s movie. The black and white film, the slow pan of the camera, and the attitude of the actor playing the grandfather, gives Destinée a loving, contemplative feel, which makes it a pleasure to watch. Zaatari’s piece is completely different. A series of interviews with young Lebanese men, talking about the things that young men like to talk about, Majnounak is on the funny side of lewd, and for the audience was easily the funniest of the four films. The mix of film types and techniques for different stages of the interviews is also interesting, somehow appropriate to the subject matter.





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