This unique comedy, set in Tripoli during the Arab Spring, offers the tale of a curmudgeonly middle-aged mummy’s boy forced to get on with life after his mother leaves him.
The first feature film from directors Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia, following their award-winning short form Tripoli, Quiet, was produced, written, shot and edited by the pair.
The actors are mostly family and friends of theirs, and all possess a naturalistic and understated performance style that helps render this intimate and earnest portrayal of Lebanese culture.
The film is comprised of the sleepily paced narrative, interview vignettes with key characters, and documentary-style footage exploring the small Lebanese capital’s modern history.
The directors eschew focussing on the Arab Spring, instead affording us a peak into the small close knit city and its culture through the daily routines of the nameless protagonist, a chubby, grumpy baker and his elderly seamstress mother.
The humour comes from his dependence on her to cook, clean and entertain him, and her annoyance with his lack of a wife and their endearing demands and frustrations with each other.
Lengthy cuts of static and handheld shots imitate the inertia of the city and the protagonist’s reticence to separate himself from the matriarch and crack on with adult life.
But when she ups and leaves one day for Beirut, refusing to give him a date when she’ll be back, he is forced to make a change.
He has a seemingly platonic relationship with a cheerful prostitute whom he struggles to make conversation with; a hostile battle of wills with a small neighbour boy who smashes his plant pots and barters with him to be taken to the fair in order to stop pestering him, and; has an Ethiopian maid forced upon him.
She doesn’t speak a word of Arabic and infuriatingly refuses to eat his cakes, eventually doing a runner after he has made an effort to make her at home in his country.
His relationships with neighbours and friends are that of a somewhat stroppy teenager. He is both excitable and sullen, either sulking or losing his temper and frantically gesticulating when his will isn’t done at once.
The final scene finds him having bought a canary, which he sweetly and concertedly whistles at in an attempt at an uncomplicated relationship, as his others seem to be proving so problematic.
It never fails to amuse, and garnered belly laughs from the multi-cultural audience present at this one-off screening and UK premiere. Here’s hoping this gem becomes more widely available.