Let her go become a woman! This line largely sums up the primary theme of “The Kite, Randa Chahal Sabbag’s award-winning Lebanese film screened at Townhouse Gallery last week as the opening feature of the film program Global Lens 2008.
Sabbag rose to fame with this third feature film, which received the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2003, along with other prestigious prizes and international acclaim; Grand Special Jury Prize, the Cinema for Peace Award and the Laterna Magica Prize. Up until this year, the film has never been screened in Egypt.
Set in the Druze area of the Golan Heights known as the Valley of Laments and Tears, the story is a combination coming-of-age drama and a chronicle of a struggle for freedom and independence. The Druze are regarded as a social group as well as a religion but not a distinct ethnic group. They are known to adapt to any setting – concealing or disguising their beliefs when necessary.
Sabbag’s film is shot from the Druze perspective, in the style of a fairytale, exploring themes of love, life and death, as well as the absurdity of Israeli occupation and urban warfare in Beirut during the 1980s. The use of motifs, symbolism, and juxtapositions work together to amplify these themes and, more importantly, to discuss the political situation in Lebanon.
The film follows 16-year-old Lamia (played by Flavia Béchara) who must cross a border checkpoint between Lebanon and Israel to marry a cousin she has never met. Her cousin unenthusiastically receives her on the other side of the checkpoint with a bunch of ratty looking flowers forcefully given to him by his mother.
Neither she nor her betrothed are eager to consummate the marriage, especially after Lamia confesses her love for another man, Youssef (played by Maher Bsaibes), the Israeli soldier who guards the Israeli/ Lebanese border. Ironically, she has never met Youssef either, but is aware of his existence as the soldier who watches her from his tower.
Youssef, also a Druze, falls in love with Lamia. While he should be guarding the border, he spends his time watching Lamia through his binoculars. He easily starts to drown in his fantasies about a girl he has never spoken to.
Their longing for one another and inability to be together due to the annexations allows the viewers to understand the plight of not only the Druze, but all those affected by Israeli checkpoints.
Lamia is the youngest, yet strongest female character in the film. She hardly divulges any emotion, testing her autonomy within an extremely restricted region. When her kite lands in the Israeli-annexed ‘sector’ of her village, she ignores the permitted boundaries for her mobility and risks her life to cross over into the mine-filled barren land. Despite Lamia’s strong will and resistance to follow instructions, she is forced into a marriage with a man she does not love.
The film is not all serious. The opening scene sets the tone of a comedy/ drama, when Lamia’s aunt uses her microphone to speak with her sister on the other side. The women use their binoculars to locate one another and then begin their usual conversations for the day using their microphones. Not only is the image of these women absolutely hilarious, but so is the dialogue.
During one verbal exchange between Lamia’s mother-in-law and her aunt, the former complains of Lamia’s dismal and depressing temperament, as she spends her time laying under a toboggan that looks like a slide part of a swing set. Her aunt and mother respond with heartfelt concern for Lamia’s well-being. The entire conversation consists of yelling, and struggling to find the definition for a toboggan.
Constant images and scenes such as this one where families are divided and find themselves on different sides of an enforced border, closely guarded by military forces, capture the absurdity of the occupation.
The fantasy and humor of this tragic love story are weaved together to produce a winning drama. The film is not just about a young Lebanese girl married against her will, it is a reflection of past and present everyday realities.
“The Kite is a perfect choice to open the Global Lens Initiative, which aims to promote cross-cultural understanding through the medium of cinema. The film acts as a powerful narrative to foster trust and respect between disparate cultures and mitigate the social and psychological impact of cultural prejudice.
Townhouse will be screening a different film at 7 pm every Wednesday through mid-March.