Arabic Cinema is the latest new focus at the Short Film Festival of Leuven in co-operation with the Swiss short film festival Kurzfilmtage Wintertuhr. The initiative is nothing but relevant in the time and context we live in. Due to migration, all kinds of people live together, no matter the race, religion or sexuality. And therefore, I think films can offer us more insight and cultural understanding. The specific kind of humour or way of narrating is a matter of “Love it or hate it”, but still all of the films in this series were very different in many aspects.
Since September, I study Arabic at university, which is mainly focussed on Fusha, the Standard Modern (Egyptian) Arabic. Consequently, I really tried to compare the different variants and dialects in these 6 shorts, which wasn’t easy to do. Indeed, only in the Egyptian films I managed to understand some bits of it
Thematically, the Lebanese films seem to contain more modern and liberal ideas, also filmtechnically they are more sophisticated like for example the special effects in Ercevax. But all 6 of the short films do point at deeply rooted sociological problems in a witty way to make the thematic less heavy. In my opinion, there are 2 ways of interpreting from our Western viewpoint. These short films either show us the Arabic encounter with a -for them- Western culture, like our pop culture -or death metal to be precise- for example in Heavy Metal Drummer or Silence Radio. On the other hand these films are a perfect proof of the fact that the Arabic world is not so different after all and does not only consist of the stereotypical ‘deserts and camels.’
Here is a short overview of the shorts in the Arabilicious-series.
Sometimes is an Eyptian short by Mahmood Soliman, made in 2008. It tells the story of a bus driver who constantly kicks people out of his bus, whenever their behaviour is not compatible to his rules. In the end it becomes clear that the story symbolises the power of love, acceptance and tolerance.
A beautiful message indeed, if it wasn’t for the technical flaws of the film like wrong subtitles, asynchronical sound and simply a story plot on the verge of pure absurdity. But Sometimes is a good warm-up to get in the mood for some more Arabic vibes.
Heavy Metal Drummer
Heavy Metal Drummer is a 2005 production by a UK co-directors Toby Macdonald and Luke Morris. One can clearly notice the Western influences when it comes to story-telling. Macdonald and Morris use a voice-over to lead us into the mind of a young Arabic boy who starts his own music band. He feels like his musical orientation is neglected and like he has to conform with the cultural traditions. He wants to be a rockstar, that’s for sure!
Watch Heavy Metal Drummer entirely on YouTube.
A Resident of the City
A Resident of the City is an 2011 Egyptian film by Adham El Sherif and to me a balad -or rather protestsong- for his city Caïro with dogs as the main characters. These dogs are metaphores for the citizens of the city and how they are so small as individuals. The film is shot like a documentary with a voice-over for the main part, namely the dog Boss. Along with his friends Zyga and Candy they own the city and have to defend their territory like real dogs do, even when it gets stacked with new buildings. The dogs symbolise the position of human nature in opposition to imperialism and urbanisation.
Visually, A Resident of the City is very beautiful, with loads of close-ups and contrasting images of light (day) and dark (night), by this, the director creates a warm atmosphere. You can almost feel the heat of the city through the screen.
Watch the entire short film on Vimeo.
Ercevax is a 15-minute Lebanese film from 2014 by Oliver Bou Eid in the same style like Robert Zemeckis Back to the Future (1985). Althought this one is more a version of ‘back to the past’. Bou Eid uses a lot of special effects and his story plot has high complexity level, although the goal of the head character, a scientist, is to go back into time to cure his son from a mortal disease with a medicine called Ercevax. This short film shows no differences from what we are used to in American films. It is very action-driven and has plenty of modern montage techniques.
For more info, visit the Facebookpage of Ercevax.
De L’Autre Côté
De L’Autre Côté is a Moroccon film by Youssef Maman and tells the story of a man and a woman who incidentally happen to look for a lift across one another. There is a sexual tension between the two. Consequently there is only one question: where can they go have sex? The film ends by them asking each others name, which to me points at the superficiality of modern relationships and how easily physical attraction i.e. lust dominates over emotions.
Maman makes his film worth watching by the beautiful compositions of his characters in the empty sandy landscape.
Silence Radio (The Song Remains the Same)
Also in 2015, the Lebanese director Reynald Bassil made his short film called Silence Radio (The Song Remains the Same) about a boy Elie living in the liberal 70’s, which period seriously clashes with his traditional environment and upbringing in Beirut. The story is set several months before the civil war. His life is dominated by music and the local radio presenter Sam Debs.
Elies’s coincidential reunion with one of his youth friends serves as a frame to the main narrative. Silence Radio has a pleasant narrative pace and is very character-driven. Bassil uses a voice-over to make the audience experience what goes on in Elie’s mind. And then there is also the typical status of a radio presenter as a role model for the younger generation. He is the one who teaches them about music and in the 70’s also mostly makes them acquainted with certain anticultures. Elie gets trapped between going his own way or opting for what the law implies him to do.
Watch the trailer on Vimeo.