Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
Lebanon/France/Spain/Sweden/Denmark/Norway/Qatar, 2021. Abbout Productions, Barentsfilm, Boo Pictures, Cinéma Defacto, Fox in the Snow Films, Ginger Beirut Production, Lastor Media, Participant, Snowglobe Films. Screenplay by Mounia Akl, Clara Rocquet. Cinematography by Joe Saade. Produced by Myriam Sassine, Georges Schoucair. Music by Nathan Larson. Production Design by Thomas Bremer, Issa Kandil. Film Editing by Cyril Aris, Carlos Marques-Marcet.
The real-life headlines about Lebanon’s garbage crisis form the jumping-off point for the narrative of this thoughtful drama set in the not too distant future. With Beirut having become a concrete jungle whose overpopulation has led to an impossibly poor quality of living, a family of five have fled to the last green spot in the country that has been owned by their family for many years. Parents Saleh Bakri and Nadine Labaki are raising their two girls in isolation, one a teenager who is going to need to break free of them soon, the other a child who is mischievous and sassy to her elders thanks to having very little social context for relating to people. The family does their best to reject the outside world but their isolation is soon threatened, first when Bakri’s mother gets them wifi to cure her boredom, then with the appearance of new, unwelcome neighbours. The government has purchased the parcel of land next to theirs from Bakri’s sister and declares that they will turn it into a green recycling centre, but Bakri knows that his country’s politicians haven’t turned a new leaf on their typical brand of corruption and immediately works to stop them from placing his family in the centre of another garbage dump. As he rages into his phone with his lawyer, then goes on trips to the city to deal with the situation, Labaki urges patience and worries that her husband’s anger is making the children more afraid of him than of the situation facing them. Meanwhile, the area outside their house becomes more and more difficult to enjoy as the air begins to first smell, then be filled with smoke and fire that makes it hard for them to breathe. Director Mounia Akl has plenty of wise things to say about the environmental dangers facing her characters, and by extension the rest of the world as well, but isn’t as successful with the personal drama she places at the centre of it. What she’s trying to say about the couple’s being at odds with each other in how they deal with their crisis isn’t clear (that we can still make the best of bad situations no matter how bad?) and by the film’s halfway point the plotting stops trying to be about conflict and runs out of ways to keep the drama going until a brief lift at the end. Excellent performances and beautiful cinematography help get an important message across, but the content isn’t compelling enough.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2021