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This highly acclaimed film from Lebanese writer-director Ziad Doueiri deservedly won the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival.
From little things, big things grow — in this case, an argument over a non-compliant gutter leads to a major court case that provokes violent street clashes between supporters of the two protagonists. In the opening scene, Toni Hanna (Adel Karam) is attending a Christian Party rally in Beirut, where he lives with his pregnant wife Shirine (Rita Hayek) in a rented apartment that is currently being renovated by the state. Shirine would like to move away to quieter Damour, but motor mechanic Toni is adamant they will stay where they are, near his garage.
When Palestinian refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha), foreman on the apartment’s rebuilding and renovation project, has his men replace a gutter downpipe from the balcony, he and Toni clash verbally. Neither will back down and the situation quickly escalates. An insult is thrown, then a punch by Yasser that breaks two of Toni’s ribs. The mechanic then goes against doctor’s orders, compounding his injuries which affects his wife’s pregnancy.
In the ensuing lawsuit, the press describe it as a case of a Christian suing a Palestinian. The case presents fascinating insight into contemporary Beirut, and the courtroom scenes provide gripping drama. Toni is represented by an older, experienced counsel, Wajdi Wehbe (Camille Salameh), while Yasser is represented pro bono by a younger female counsel, Nadine (Diamand Bou Abboud).\
Underlying partisan grievances from the 1991 General Amnesty quickly rise to the surface and lead to unrest on the streets of Beirut. The arguments presented by both sides are universal, with each counsel painting their client as a victim of aggression. Privately expressed support of either side is tempered publicly by pragmatism.
Nadine accuses Wajdi of waging war in court. She not only represents her client, but the post civil war generation who question the need for the old political parties.
Both lead male characters’ wives believe the men are allowing a minor incident to ruin their lives. The presiding judge is also a woman. It is easy to read into Doueiri’s screenplay his desire for society to heed the opinions of women.
The Insult is a multi-layered film that is highly recommended.
The pre-titles sequence shows a raid on an Afghanistan village from the point of view of an Australian soldier, Mike (Sam Smith). Three years later, he returns to Kabul. In a hotel room, he removes wads of cash strapped to his torso. He is trying to arrange transport to Kandahar, but is told it’s too dangerous. However, a taxi driver (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad) agrees to take him as far as Bamiyan.
Dressed as a local, he is driven south through dramatically beautiful countryside. En route, the two men manage to communicate despite lacking a common language. At one point, they stop to ride a faded pink flamingo pedalo on a brilliant blue lake, seemingly in the middle of nowhere — quite a surreal scene. The two men then further bond through improvising music on the lake’s bank.
Despite the apparent innocence of his journey, Mike is not a tourist. He is on a quest to offer compensation to the family of a civilian he shot during that fateful night raid three years earlier.
Writer, director and camera operator Ben Gilmour is also a frontline paramedic, who knows his subject matter. The exploration of Mike’s determination to atone his mistake is based on the experiences of former soldiers who have returned to former war zones to rebuild destroyed towns and villages.
Gilmour presents the human face of Afghanistan, including the Taliban. When Mike finally arrives at the village his company raided, a council of tribal elders — a Jirga — is convened to decide his fate.
Jirga is a deceptively powerful film, with the narrative about basic human goodness told simply. It also looks stunning.
On Chesil Beach
Ian McEwan, author and co-screenwriter of On Chesil Beach, surely must care for the characters he creates, but he sure puts them through the emotional wringer! In this film, McEwan explores how contemporary social mores and one’s upbringing can influence expectations of adult relationships. The many differences between star-crossed lovers Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) are emphasised by Suzie Davies’s production design and Keith Madden’s costumes.
The film begins with the newly married couple dining in their hotel room on the first evening of their honeymoon. It is 1962 and they clearly have not yet consummated their relationship. The comic ineptitude of the hotel staff heightens the mounting tension between the two virgins as time nears for them to go to bed. Edward is clumsily eager, but Florence’s dread is palpable.
Through a series of flashbacks, we follow their romance from their meeting at Oxford University when Edward was celebrating having gained first-class honours in history. Florence has gained firsts in music.
For Florence’s successful parents (Samuel West and Emily Watson), keeping up appearances is top priority. They live in a claustrophobically respectable house with their two daughters, Florence and Ruth (Bebe Cave). The conservative formality of their lives is in direct contrast to the warmth and spontaneity of the Mayhew household, who live in an airy, light-filled country cottage.
Teacher Lionel Mayhew (Adrian Scarborough) and his children, Edward and twins Harriet and Anne (Mia and Anna Burgess), calmly deal with mother Marjorie’s (Anne-Marie Duff) unpredictable behaviour, the result of a tragic accident which left the former art expert with brain damage.
Florence is embraced by Edward’s family. With them, she can relax and behave more freely than with her own. They introduce her to Chuck Berry’s music and, in turn, she introduces Edward to the classical music her fledgling quartet play. Dan Jones’s music score is a highlight of this film.
Yet, throughout their courtship, discussion of sex remains taboo, with tragic consequences.Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt shot On Chesil
Beach on film. Most flashback scenes are single set-ups which present snippets of memory economically and simply.
My only criticism of this achingly poignant film is the quality and quantity of make-up overzealously applied to the actors as older versions of their characters. However, if On Chesil Beach is showing on a screen near you, grab a handful of tissues and give yourself a cathartic treat.
Paraguayan film The Heiresses (Las Herederas) was awarded the Sydney Film Prize at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival. Written by Gabriel Casaccia and directed by Marcelo Martinessi, it is set in the Paraguay capital, Asunción, and tells the story of middle-aged couple Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) who are progressively selling off their inherited possessions to pay their bills. Unfortunately, Chiquita ends up in prison after being convicted of fraud for having issued promissory notes she couldn’t honour.
For 30 years, Chela has depended on her partner to organise her life. Now she must fend for herself. Although she no longer has a licence, she begins driving her wealthy elderly female neighbours to social engagements in the old Mercedes that Chiquita has left with a ‘vendo’ notice for Chela to sell off.
The ladies’ gossip from the back seat provides interesting commentary on the changing social structure of Paraguay. For sheltered Chela, becoming a chauffeuse to them not only provides a source of income, but a new way of seeing herself and her relationship with others. She becomes friends with Angy (Ana Ivanova), a sexy, younger woman. Both intrigued by and attracted to her, Chela tentatively begins to explore a newly awakened sense of independence.
In prison, Chiquita also gains a new perspective on society and human nature. By adapting to their changed socioeconomic circumstances, both women grow as people.
The release date for The Heiresses is yet to be determined, but keep an eye out for this engaging and entertaining film.
Also worth checking out is the Sydney Latin American Film Festival from 6-15 September. Head to www.sydneylatinofilmfestival.org for more details.
Tricia Youlden is on long service leave