I went to see Stray Bullet (Lebanese title: Rsasa Taysheh رصاصة طايشة) last Sunday. I usually have a positive prejudice about any Lebanese film I decide to watch (a shrink told me that it’s a sign of patriotism (just an example of how useless psycho-sciences can be hehe)).
The film is written and directed by Georges Hachem. It was officially released in November 2010 and came up in theaters in January 2011. Running time 80 minutes; language: Lebanese. All in all, the film has many winning assets: great cast, amazing acting performances, successfully directed scenes, beautiful moody music, clever use of lighting… The grainy texture of the 16 mm picture produces an evocative “retro” style that brings up the nostalgia of the 1970s. The film has indeed won several awards worldwide.
However, the story was not my cup of tea, although the script in itself (the content, I mean) was good, and the dialogues fairly well written. Not too much talking, not too little either; just what it takes. The film in general is slow-paced in order to allow the spectator to consider the visual aesthetics, or to ponder over the dramatic moments. Average people will find the film too slow, whereas the “thinkers” will probably enjoy it. Some moments with awkward silences would have definitely benefited from a more efficient time management. Anyhow.
Perhaps is it simply personal, but I could not relate to this film. I gave in to the mood alright: 1970s, war time… the nostalgic part was OK by me; I could relate emotionally, but not intellectually.
In that respect, I found that the film was full of clichés of the Lebanese way of life: family and social pressure to get married (esp. after 30), spinster sister, traditional mothers, macho domineering brother who does not hesitate to beat his sister, domestic violence, etc. In short: the pernicious effects of patriarchal society.
What bothered me is that most Lebanese films focus on the same issues. I don’t have a problem if one wants to deal with clichés, but in that case, please tackle them differently. Try another approach, dare to suggest an analysis, show more empathy if you like, or criticize with originality. Nothing of all this is found in the film (neither in other ones): it’s just pure description. The director is sort of saying: “That’s what happens (or used to happen), what do you think?” And the spectators usually think: “It’s bad.” Of course it’s bad, but what is your bloody take on it? “No take, I’m just sayin’. Just reproducing what I see.” Any thought about it? “No, just a play of emotions.” Well, I am sorry, that’s not good enough. Such themes have already been seen before. Only the setting is different.
Whether such issues exist or not in real life, I believe that the fact of making them systematically central in Lebanese cinema is a matter of concern. Intellectually, are we bringing in something new?
I guess not. But hey, it’s exotic for the Arab audience. The film successfully encapsulates the Lebanese “way of being,” and there are funny idioms and expressions that the Arab spectators will appreciate. The Christian context of the plot is also another peculiarity that will draw Arab attention (particularly when Maronite chants in Syriac are heard).
It’s exotic for Western audiences too. Especially for them. VERY exotic. Orientalism at its best! Preconceived ideas of the “Orient” turning out to be true. Marriage of fantasy and reality. “They have beautiful women there, too!” “Ah, Oriental sensuality…!” “I think it’s because religion is all over the place that they have so many wars over there. That’s why they are still under-developed!”
On a more serious level: what is happening in the Lebanese cinema is the same phenomenon happening in the cinema of “third world” countries. We stage our cultural and social particularities while comparing ourselves to Western culture. It’s a very anthropologic cinema, after all: what is put forth is culture, not ideas (or more precisely, culture before ideas, as if our ideas did not matter).
No salvation for our cinema unless we produce ideas of our own, something intellectually new. Something genuinely avant-garde. Something intellectually challenging. Something Promethean.
We’re too self-conscious, too self-absorbed, too self-analytical. And I say it’s time to go past the Complex of the Colonized Lebanese [marketing moment: read my two posts about that, CLICK HERE! and HERE! ;)]
We are always seeking approval from an outside culture. Well, dammit, this has to change.
No more self-exoticization. No more cultural display. No more saying: “Look! This is how we are! This is how we are different from you!” (with local accent).
My opinion is that the cultural aspects ought to appear matter-of-factly, instead of being developed in a reflexive, analytical way. Ideas first. Let the focus be on a central idea/issue/problem/theme around which the film revolves. That’s my opinion. Thank you for reading.