Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 6:44 pm 
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A bodyguard, a pop star, and a dead older brother in Beirut

Heaven Sent/Tombé du ciel (actually in Arabic, so it's title is من ألسماء) is a whimsical, meandering fable about death, heroism, machismo, and the Lebanese condition, which is much affected by the beautiful little nation's many wars and particularly its devastating civil conflict from 1975-1990. This event remains a presence in a latent violence (and ever present suicide bombing rate recounted on the radio) and a lingering sense of exhaustion. The focus is on two brothers. If that is what they are.

Omar, the younger (Raed Yassin), was a child 20 years ago when his brother Samir (Rodrigue Sleiman) disappeared in the war, presumed dead. The two meet one day at a club when Omar knocks Samir to the ground outside, and then realizes who he is. He has been away, to put it mildly. A doctor declares him fit (despite being unconscious, and having dirty toenails), and prescribes vitamins and a pedicure. He looks younger than Omar now. Omar is a thick, shaven-head, baby-faced security guard. He's actually more of a club bouncer, but he gets hired to help protect a singer (Yumna Marwan) who turns to politics, only the site is bombed when she declares her candidacy, and Omar lands in the hospital saving her while the other three guards get killed. She sends him a bazooka to his hospital room with a brief thank you note. (In Beirut, they take bazookas in hospital rooms.) When they go home, Omar doesn't speak.

Samir can't get a job. Everyone thinks he's dead. Perhaps he is dead. He goes for an interview. "Mr. Samir," the interviewer reads. "Single. Bachelors in Comparative Literature. Thesis: Bin Laden vs. Haifa Wehbe: The Mars and Venus of the 21st Century Arab citizen." (Haifa Wehbe is a Lebanese actress, singer, and babe.) "Career: Archivist, chronicler of news items, tour guide, marketing adviser." His interviewer declares him a man of culture, but when it turns out he has no I.D. of any kind, sends him away. Sometimes the brothers are at home, with their father, who is gaga, and only shouts that Lebanon has torn all invaders to bits. They are bothered by a slob of a neighbor who plays the TV too loud. There is revenge.

Omar's best friend is Rami (Said Serhan), who sells classic cars for a living and plans to immigrate to Germany and declares, wisely, we may surmise, "I need to learn German." "You don't want to go there," Omar says. "The weather's really cold and the food's lousy." "What book can I read to learn German?" Rami asks. "Mein Kampf," Omar replies. "You can find it everywhere nowadays." Where the two brothers stand relatively as men of arms shows when Omar is confused and befuddled about how to assemble his Glock automatic handgun and Samir assembles it blindfolded in twelve seconds.

The brothers take a trip to the mountains to visit the grave of their mother. Meanwhile Samir is also trying to contact Castro, a comrade, maybe a former commander, from the wartime days who has created a peacetime career of coaching people in the art of self defense. Castro refuses to believe Samir's alive. This is when the film veers from the comic into the magical. Unfortunately, as several different French critics have pointed out, Heaven Sent never "finds its rhythm," and remains just a series of "scenettes" even if some are striking.

Perhaps Charaf's film doesn't always work, but its scenes are simple and bold. There is a confidence about them that's bracing. The images, in academy ratio, are at times surprisingly handsome. Tombé du ciel has a little of the tragicomedy of Palestinian auteur Elia Suleiman about it (the Daily Star writer thought of Roy Andersson), and we must look for more in future, since he's had the blessing of Cannes workshops.

Heaven Sent/Tombé du ciel ( من ألسماء), 70 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2016 in the ACID, Association du Cinema Independent pour la Diffusion. Filmmaking prize at the War on Screen Festival, Châlons-en-Champagne; Grand Prix at Tubingen-Stuggart; Monpelllier; Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux; Beirut; French film fest, Lisbon, Cinematheque of Tangiers. Theatrical release in Paris 17 Mar. 2017, without raves (AlloCiné press rating 2.9 from 12 reviews). See the article/review in the Beirut Daily Star by Jim Quilty. I've stolen his title, and some other things.

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