Many of the Lebanese documentaries deal with the political issues and revolve mostly around the Lebanese Civil War. Most of these films addresses the relationship between religion and politics, while other films are trying to monitor the ambiguous and very complicated sectarian situation. Mary Jirmanus Saba’s film A Feeling Greater than Love (Shu’our Akbar Min Al Hob) is, outwardly, not very different from most of these films. The Lebanese documentary is referring to a political issue with a historical and social background, related to the history of the militant Labor Movement in Lebanon. The film tells the story of two strikes in the early 1970s – in a southern Lebanon tobacco company and at Beirut’s Gandour chocolate factory. The workers protested against the poor conditions, social injustice and inequality. A Feeling Greater than Love is portraying the director’s attempt to compare the past with the present. Saba’s point is that after all these years, nothing has changed in Lebanon on the political and social level. The film sheds light on the fact that history is repeating itself.
The interesting thing in A Feeling Greater than Love – which was shown in the Forum Section where it won the FIPRESCI Award – is the personal fingerprint of the director, which is well- expressed in written comments throughout the film. These sarcastic comments are contrary to the tragic events and facts explored in the film, and the contradiction intensifies the tragic impact.
The most distinguished thing about the film is the human moments such as the memories, dreams and feelings expressed by old comrades who gather in roughly the same places where they used to meet in the past. These moments introduce the audience to the essence of the Lebanese people who are distinguished with the love of life. The Lebanese people search for joy and love of life to help them overcome the crisis, not only disasters. They can rebuild that which was destroyed, and amend what the wars ruined in the hearts of people, so they can live in the most difficult circumstances. We can notice that when the “comrades”, or whatever they used to call each other, make fun of their revolutionary naivety at that time. This naivety is full of the pain of dissipating the dream of a better homeland, fairer life and more humane living conditions.
One of Saba’s challenges was the scarcity of archival materials covering the events of sit-ins and the struggle of the Labor Movement in Lebanon in the early 1970s. Footages of one of the ladies that was attacked during the sit-in goes a long way. However, Saba managed to overcome that by using the available archival material in a way that explains or confirms what the real characters are narrating. Due to the lack of archival materials, the same archival footages is used in different places in film, and the repetition of comments by the people who participated in the events is a bit boring.
It is possible to understand the director’s desire to emphasize the particular facts in order to clarify the comparison between what happened in the 1970s and what is happening now, but it was not necessary to repeat this tool more than once.
Giving answers or providing solutions is not is not the role of cinema (whether fiction or documentary). As I see it, art and cinema are supposed to search for answers to questions asked by the artistic works. Here comes the greatness of documentary films that tackle and discuss thorny issues on human, historical, social and political levels, especially in the Arab world that has a long and extensive history of repression.
The most important thing that can come out of watching A Feeling Greater than Love is that you want to search for answers for all the questions raised by the film and have no clear answers. This is simply because the film itself is an attempt by the director to compare and find answers to questions that she has been thinking of when she chose this topic and felt enthusiastic to address through the film.
Edited by Yael Shuv
© FIPRESCI 2017