Á mon Beyrouth…
I’m loving the movement in reviving the Lebanese cinema. From the delicious, bittersweet ‘Caramel’, to the heart-wrenching tragedy in ‘Stray Bullet’. To the upcoming horror film ‘Sorry Mum’ and the first 3D film in the middle east, ‘Last Valentine in Beirut’. The moving film we are expecting from Nadine Labaki’s ‘Where do we go from here?’, and last but not least, I had the opportunity to watch “Chatti Ya Dinni” (Here Comes the Rain) at the Abu Dhabi premiere.
The film’s synopsis rotates around a man who had been kidnapped for 20 years during the war, and returns to his family. A family which had struggled with the ordeal of not knowing where he was, now struggled with dealing with his return. The film explored the fact that it is not only the kidnapped victims who deal with trauma and cannot adapt themselves to society normally after spending so much time finding solace in strange psychological outlets (In this case it was obsessing about picking up randomly colored and bright cardboard bags, rather than the plastic ones he was suffocated with in prison), but also the difficulties the children (now grown-ups) have to face and sacrifices the mother deals with on having her husband return when she had just begun moving on with her life. The daughter no longer could afford to go to France to follow her dream of becoming a professional cello player, because of the money spent on medications towards her father. The son who has not found his purpose in life.
Ramez, the main character, is out of place in his own home, and looks for solace in Zeinab, whose husband, also kidnapped during the war for his political articles in the newspapers, never gives up hope that he would one day return to her. They develop a keen, rather platonic relationship, where she seems to see the sanity in Ramez where others can’t. A strange occurrence when an inmate, who had been gone for 20 years as well, had asked Ramez to inform his wife that he is still alive. Yet when Ramez finds out that the wife had passed away two years earlier and that his children had moved abroad, his reaction seems to be as one who had lost his cat. As though his senses to suffering had become numb.
The string in this film was a true story told through Bernadette Hodeib, who plays the role of Nayfeh Najjar. Najjar was a mother who worked at As-Safir newspaper and whose 13-year-old son, Ali, was kidnapped during the war. She published several letters, imploring the kidnappers to return her son. But after nine months, she lost all hope and committed suicide, leaving behind her last letter asking forgiveness and understanding from her son if he was still alive, and a few pictures of her smiling, so that he may have a pretty memory of her. According to the director, Bahij Hojeij, Hodeib represents the conscience of the film.
It was a touching film, and although the screenplay wasn’t very well rounded up, the acting from many in the cast was really good, particularly from Hassan Murad who won the Best Actor Award from the Brussels Independent Film Festival.
The story was similar to the story of my grandmother’s neighbor during the war. A young man, whose beautiful bride was 3 months pregnant with their first child was kidnapped, never to be seen or heard from again. It is often said that it is a fate worse than losing someone by death, when you don’t have a body to bury, when you don’t know if that person is alive or dead. If dead, then he died away from the people who loved him. He died with the anguish that he could not let them know. If alive, he lived with worry, fear and longing. The questions and destroyed hope was too much to bear for the man’s mother, who died of cancer a few years after her son disappeared. His wife struggled with raising her child, a single woman in an Arab society, during a time of war, with no one to protect her. Stress broke her body and she ended her life, extremely overweight from the medications she had to take.
I suppose, nothing is more heart-wrenching than to watch your countrymen hail politicians and former war criminals who were responsible for thousands of these disappearances while ignoring the mothers who spend every Mother’s Day camping in protest till their sons and daughters return from “unknown prisons”. Or the grave.