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French Version

Lebanese film returns to the Masrah al-Madina

Sick of the onslaught of American blockbusters and sickly sweet Christmas movies on offer at commercial cinemas? Have you felt an odd yearning to see Lebanese film on the big screen? Masrah al-Madina feels your pain.From January 17 to 22, the old Saroulla Cinema space is turning itself over to a week-long retrospective of Lebanese film.

It will assemble shorts and documentaries from some of the country's best-known filmmakers.

Many of these are early works by writer-directors who have since gone on to distinguish themselves with feature films, so the week provides a rare opportunity to see where today's talent is coming from.

Among the more-established filmmakers in the line-up are Jean Chamoun and Mai Masri. Their documentary "War Generation Beirut" was part of the opening-night program. This will be followed on 19 January by Masri's solo work "Children of Fire" (1990, 52 mins) - her first effort to turn the camera lens on the plight of Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories.

Another husband and wife team, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, made a great impression in Europe last year with their new feature "A Perfect Day." While Beirut awaits the Lebanese premier of that film, the Madina will screen a pair of their earlier films on January 18.

"Ramad" (2003, 26 mins) features Rabih Mroue as an expatriate Lebanese who returns home on a mission to inter the ashes of a dead relative. This apparently simple task is vastly complicated because cremation is illegal in this country. "Le film perdu" (2003, 42 mins) is a documentary that follows the directors' efforts to track down a print of their first feature, "Autour de la maison rose," after it went missing while in Yemen.

The work of another film partnership, albeit not of the husband-wife variety, is "Who Hangs the Laundry? Washing, War and Electricity in Beirut" (2001, 20 mins). The partners in question are Lebanese human rights activist Tina Naccache and Icelandic filmmaker Hrabba Gunnarsdottir. As the title suggests, this documentary depicts how challenging the simple task of clothes washing can be when you have no dependable water or electricity supply. It screens on January 20.

The closing film of the retrospective is Gunnarsdottir and Naccache's award-winning "Alive in Limbo" (2004, 52 mins). The documentary commences in 1993 when the filmmakers encounter five kids - four Palestinians from the Shatila refugee camp and a Lebanese from just outside the then-Israeli occupation zone. It was the year of the Oslo Peace Accords and everyone was optimistic for the future. Over the next decade, the filmmakers try to catch up with the maturing adults as the dreams of peace and prosperity sink into the miasma of stasis.

Staying with the theme of shared Palestinian-Lebanese tragedy, "Massaker" (2005, 100 mins) will receive a reprise screening at the Madina. This award-winning documentary by Lockman Slim and Monika Borgmann examines the 1982 Sabra-Shatilla massacre from the perpetrators' perspective. Anyone who hasn't yet had a chance to see this highly disturbing work can do so on January 21.

There are a number of well-loved curio pieces on offer this week as well and, have no fear, some of them are on the lighter side.

A pair of Elie Khalife's shorts will be screened on January 21. "Taxi Service" (1996, 20 mins), Khalife's first film, follows a hapless taxi driver who picks up a fare who wants to visit an insane asylum. Asked to wait, the driver runs into difficulties, first with the patients, then with the staff who have trouble distinguishing normal madness from insanity.

Remaining true to his motor-vehicular theme is Khalife's most recent short, "Van Express" (2005, 20 mins). Another comedy, "Van Express" is the tale of a pair of guttersnipe entrepreneurs whose espresso machine - their only source of income - is confiscated from the back of their battered VW van. Financially derelict, they're forced to seek a partner who can retool the van to flog another commodity.

A rarity in Lebanese cinemas, Michel Kammoun's "La Douche" (2000, 10 mins), will screen on January 18. One of the most interesting shorts to come out of Franco-Lebanese co-production, Kammoun takes the mundane inanities of bathroom ritual and mixes them into a rich concoction of comic-horror.

Another curio, Nadine Labaki's "11 Rue Pasteur" (1996, 12 mins) will be projected on January 19. The director is known for her work in music videos and ads these days, but this early film took prizes at the then-Beirut Film Festival in 1997 and the following year at the Fifth Biennial of the Arab cinema in Paris. Worth a look.

Entry for Masrah al-Madina's retrospective of Lebanese film are free of charge. Films will be screened with English and/or French subtitles. For details call +961 1753010

Beirut 23-01-2006
Jim Quilty
The Daily Star

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