To my Beirut

Á mon Beyrouth…

Interview with the director Jean Claude-Codsi

A pleasant interview with the courteous director, at Café Margot in Furn el Chebbak, Beirut.

Brahim a lonely car seller in Lebanon has a chance encounter with Leila, for whom he committed a murder 20 years ago in Jordan. Due to that, he was forced to play dead and flee incognito to Lebanon, leaving behind a family, including his wife and son who think he “died a hero”. He decides to go back to Jordan and face his past. The film recounts the journey of a man who struggles against tribal values.

What inspired you to create this project?

I recall a story of an “honor crime” that happened when I was a kid. I was very shocked by it as it is, and as I became older, it never really left my mind. When I read a novel by Joseph Conrad about a similar story that happens in Indonesia, it reminded me of the story I knew, and this is how I started to work on the film.

This summer, the law in Lebanon that somewhat lessens a sentence on honor crimes was revoked. But none of the female MPs were present for the voting. To what extent do you think that women play a role concerning this matter?

I think that as much as women are important in changing society, it is not as much as the men because they are the ones that are expected to defend the honor of the family. He is the one who is expected to give the punishment, not the women, whether they agree or not. Society blames the man and not the woman if something happens to “dishonor” the family and it is not “cleansed”, so it is important that they are the ones to change the course of thinking; though that is not to undermine the importance of the position of the women towards the matter.

What was the reaction towards the film till now?

Doha’s film festival was a very particular because it was in the festival and it was the first time that the film was screened. Many people remained after the screening to discuss the film. It was very particular because so many people who I did not expect were so interested in the film. An African American woman hugged me and told me she wanted to show it in New York and some people from India came to talk about screening it in New Delhi. It is not just for Arabic people, but for people in so many countries. Not because of “honor crimes” but because of the concept of honor itself. It is present in every culture. In Westerns, in the Italian Mafia, they all have different perspectives of what honor and family is in every culture; particularly family and how to protect it.

Why was it based between Jordan and Lebanon?

I needed Brahim to leave one country to go to another. The country that he was to exile himself into was Beirut. Beirut is a very special town; it is where we can talk about things we can’t really talk about anywhere else. Also, when I googled honor crimes, I mostly saw Jordan come up because over there they are most vocal about it. You don’t hear about it in Syria or Lebanon, but in Jordan they have associations and organizations to fight against this matter and they are struggling with this issue.

Where do you see the Lebanese cinema?

If you asked me this question three years ago I would have said I don’t know, but this year we had a lot of films coming out; some are commercial, some are interesting, each has its character but all are important because that’s the only way we can keep growing. The movement that was emerging was stopped in 2006 and 2008 (because of the war and politics). And now it’s growing again. When I did my first film in the 90s we did not even have a proper camera to shoot with. We had to bring the crew from Russia. Now we have everything we need, machines, equipment, experienced professionals, thanks to video clips and advertisements.

What films did you watch recently that you really enjoyed?

One of the last films I saw; The Descendents. I really liked that film because it talks about the family and this is something that I am interested in a lot, and the perspective of the film from different cultures, especially in the culture of Hawai and its atmosphere.

What do you think about online Video on Demand platforms like Cinemoz?

I am more of a traditionalist. Movies should be watched in the theater in a crowd together with an audience. It is one of the rare places where you can be with a crowd sit together and feel emotions together. If I don’t see a film in theater I watch it on DVD, I have never seen a film on a computer but I think that for young directors, VOD is a very useful platform to show their work, if there is no other way, I am sure it can help, but not the basic form of watching films.

What advice do you give to young filmmakers?

To create, to make films, you have to be, as we say, stubborn. Keep walking and don’t stop. You will eventually find it.

“Man of Honor” – Insanon Charif opens in Lebanese theaters today, March 29th


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