Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Kite



Le cerf-volant : Lebanon (Leb-Fr) 2003 : Randa Shalal SABBAG : 80 mins

The plot of The Kite could easily have taken place in the wake of any military conflict all over the world, but it is actually based on happenings in a small Syrian village up in the Golan Heights in the aftermath of the 1967 war with the Israelis. Land and villages are ravaged by military abuse and all kinds of suppression. Families are divided, finding themselves on different sides of an enforced border, closely guarded by military forces. Only women to be married and dead people are allowed to cross the border to be united with their loved ones
(from official Troms 2004 Film Festival programme)

In Sunderland my home town, and the place where I currently (Feb 04) still reside a kite is working-class slang for a beer-belly. In the last twelve months or so, I have seen not one but two films entitled The Kite, and I am disappointed to say that neither of them concerns the pendulous gut developed by ale-swillers. Making a movie about Sunderland beer-bellies would intrigue this viewer, of course, but the resulting meisterwerk would probably struggle to obtain a berth on the global film-festival circuit. No such trouble for Aleksei Muradov or Randa Chahal Sabbag, whose Kites original titles Zmej and Le Cerf-volant have proved popular to festival programmers despite their many deficiencies. Indeed, many festivals (such as Troms) have programmed both features, and have needed to distinguish between the pair by noting Russia or Lebanon alongside the titles in catalogues, etc.

The two films are quiet fables in which kites as in those things kids fly in the sky represent the idea of freedom: originality is clearly not the strong suit of either director. And neither, truth be told, is movie-making. Their films are shown in festivals because of their issues they explore (post-Soviet family misery for Muradov, Divine Interventionish ironies of the Israel-Lebanon conflict for Sabbag) rather than their instrinsic artistic merits.

The Lebanese Kite is thankfully never quite so tedious as the Russian one it skims by at a brisk 80 minutes, and features a watchably luminous turn from Flavia Bechara as the strong-willed Lebanese girl Lamia, who despite her education is forced into an arranged marriage with a boy over in the Israeli-annexed sector of her village. Her heart belongs elsewhere, of course with Youssef (Maher Bsaibes), a border guard who, though Lebanese himself, has been recruited into the Israeli security forces.

But while Alain Levents cinematography does Bechara justice, she isn’t very well some broad turns from the supporting players, nor by Ziad Rahbanis incessant old-school-muzak score. Even worse is Sabbags predictable script and its hackneyed symbolism. As soon as we see Lamia in a wedding-dress walking between militarised zones, for instance, its only a matter of seconds before she snags it on a barbed-wire fence. Sabbags direction, meanwhile, struggles to cope with the more ambitiously poetic passages of her script and she badly fumbles the shift into magical-realism at the finale, in which dream, fantasy, premonition and reality messily and confusingly collide.

3rd February, 2004
(seen 17th January : Fokus Cinema, Troms Troms International Film Festival)

click here for a full list of reviewed films from the Troms International Film Festival 2004


by Neil Young