Many years ago I translated The Manuscript of a Crow, a short story by Spanish author Max Aub, the protagonist of which was a crow relating its observations of human beings as he saw them in their concentration camps.  He was astounded that a man could go to sleep a Pole and wake up a German and then, not too much later go out shopping and come back to find himself a Russian.  Human history never stops spinning its wheels in the same ruts and so a similar story is found in Randa Chahal Sabbag‘s wonder of a film, The Kite.  Released in 2003 it apparently never made the round of US art houses, and too bad for all of us.

Set on the Lebanese-Israeli border where the barbed wire and watch towers divide two Druze villages, the story is of  Lamia [ Flavia Bechara]the most charming 15 year old girl you’re likely to have seen in recent movie time. She is sent off to marry her cousin Samy [Edmond Haddad] on the Israeli side because well, the men have decided so.  The opening scenes have her flying kites with her sweet and much loved younger brother, right along the border.  Her wing-like, white kite gets away from her and lodges up against a barbed wire fence.  She sets off to get it, to the screaming fear of the kids, and a handsome Druze guard: she is walking across a mine field.

Because of the separation of the two villages, families, cousins, sisters, the negotiation for her marriage takes place between the two gates, via bullhorns, womaned by the most raucous women you’ve likely ever heard, abaya clad or not.  She’s ready for marriage yells her mother, “She started menstruating two years ago!”  When it’s suggested the new husband isn’t man enough for the girl — “beautiful from the tips of her toes to the ends of her fingers”– his mother yells back that he is such a stud he mounted a nanny goat when he was only seven!

Lamia wants nothing to do with the arrangement.  The two families swap videos of the intendeds.  She is not impressed; his not much more so.  But, what does a 15 year old girl have to say in a rural Arab village?  Not much.  After the wedding festivities on her side of the border, off she goes, fully gowned, alone, along the dusty “crossing” through the no-man’s-land to meet her new family.

It does not go well.  And, she has caught a glimpse of the handsome guard catching a glimpse of her catching a glimpse of him.  Nice dream sequences follow.  More hollering back and forth across the divide, as Lamia proves impossible.  Her rather sweet groom doesn’t insist, and returns her insults rather more sadly than she hands them out.  “I only wanted to help you.  You can go back.”  She being the stubborn girl she is — wait till you meet her mother!– says she doesn’t want to go back.  She wants to stay here!  Eventually she is returned  and the film uses the opening white kite to pull us into a marvelous magical-realism ending in which love and transcendence and erotic longing suggest, at least in the imagination, the only way to dissolve the wounds of politics, armies and ancient hatreds.

The sound track calls attention to itself a few times but on the whole provides  good support for the tenderness that seeps over the raucous humor and moments of tension.  The one mid-size stumbling block is knowing who is who.  In some cases it’s not clear which side a character is on until well into the film.  At first it’s confusing why an apparent Arab is on guard on the Israeli side and speaking  in Arabic to an Israeli officer (I believe.)  The comedy and love and commentary on the ridiculousness of this kind of partition — one night Israeli soldiers drag concertina wire down a street in a temporary annexation of more of the town; the next night it is taken away– overcome the confusion.  Had the director thought more about local knowledge vs.  strangers’ knowledge she might have put a few more cues in the early minutes, and helped the possible foreign distributors to an easier decision.

The Kite, to add to your interest, is one of many films in a very promising Global Film Initiative “Promoting Cross Cultural Understanding Through Film.”  The DVD had trailers from the 2005  catalog, all of which, from many countries, looked interesting.  I haven’t seen more than a couple of them but Womens’ Prison from Iran [my review], Buffalo Boy from Vietnam and Whisky from Uruguay are all very innovative looks at the human condition, and in circumstances few of us are ever likely to encounter. They are all about 90 minutes in length.  Those I’ve seen have high production values as well as good scripts and acting.  All are available for about $20 Netflix has 7 0f the 9 films in the 2002 catalog.

I’d be interested in joining a small group for purchasing and viewing some of these 76 movies.  All profits go to programs for cross cultural understanding.  In fact, the DVDs come with study guides in PDF format!

Here is the latest from the series, possibly available in theaters near you.

 

Reviews:  Michael Atkinson