Á mon Beyrouth…
When you enjoy a film that doesn’t really have a plot, it must be a really pleasant film to watch, because that means that everything else must have been good enough to make up for the missing story line. That was the case with Taxi el Ballad. And I think it is a reflection of the life of many Lebanese. We live life, there isn’t a story there but the things that happen every day are just too remarkable (or we make them so) that we can’t ignore, and somehow enjoy it, despite the downsides and obstacles that we face.
And that in itself is a story, which is why the film was so enjoyable.
In the film we see Youssef’s story, who leaves his village in order to pursue a life as a cab driver in the city of Beirut, finds and loses love, and learns everything he needs to know about life just by the customers in his taxi. Since the characters of Beirut are only too well known, it is only natural that all the taxi drivers in Lebanon receive the same education, as if they all graduated from the same university of Lebanese philosophy.
And that is why they are part of Beirut culture. They are the source of all the gossip,they know people’s worries, their characters, their secrets; all this while they keep the daily life of the city literally moving.
There are many underlying messages. Youssef’s struggles to settle his life, the characters which he surrounds himself by, the comedy and tragicomedy that comes across us in his daily life, were depicted through cases that were common to our culture. The answer to our problems as it is to Youssef was always Beirut.
The most enjoyable aspects of the film were the flashbacks, returning to the typical Lebanese village in the mountains, a picturesque view with the red roof tops and green windows; and most of all the comical view of the village people we only know too well,though they were sometimes overdone; the Mokhtar, the invincible Carlo, the prudish older women and the eligible young ladies. Youssef as a young boy stealing money from the Virgin Mary, Carlo’s “Samson” strength and how his heart was broken by a girl who was in love with a violinist, provided comical turns for the film, the old butcher who was still alive when Youssef returns to the village, after 30 years of claiming he was near his grave.
Technically, it is surprisingly well made, and well edited. Script-wise, though there was no plot-line, it was very faithful to the Lebanese daily talk and forms of expression, and without an actual story, it makes the viewer feel that they are just observing the daily life of an ordinary man, rather than watching a film. Character development could have been better, at certain points it felt that the film was trying to impose a portrayal of Youssef that did not really match the disposition he represented.
All in all, it is a joy to watch, though the film shows the contradictions of Lebanese society. As his constant friend throughout the film Jordan, the American sports trainer who saw in Youssef what others did not, believes that Lebanese are a conformist society who call “for progress by day and then piss on the wall at night.
Taxi el Ballad
– Director: Daniel Joseph
– Starring: Talal-el Jordi, Hiam Abou Chedid
– Release Date: March 2012
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