Between Death and Hop By Kirill Razlogov

in 9th Zanzibar International Film Festival

by Kirill Razlogov

In 1975, the civil war in Lebanon started by a massacre on a bus. Thirty years later the same type of bus (made in 1943) became the title character of a 100% Lebanese musical called Bosta (The Bus). It was shown in Zanzibar almost at the exact moment when a new war started in the battered territory.

Curiously enough the atmosphere of the Lebanese film corresponded with the ambiance of ZIFF, where music played the leading role in a curious combination of political and academic events. Even if geographically the Near and Middle East were not part of the Dhow Countries of East Africa and the Indian Ocean, culturally the destinies of Africans and Arabs, Muslims and Christians intertwined.

The director of Bosta, Philippe Aractingi, at one point left his native Lebanon to become an international documentary film maker. Work for different televisions in Europe did not alter his dream to make a triumphal comeback with a feature film. He succeeded: just before the new war started his film became a critical and popular success and a local box-office champion.

The key to this success (and, I hope, an adequate international career), is a mixture of politics and love, everyday life and music, tradition and modernity. Some clearly autobiographical elements make the story ring poignantly true. Kamal (Rodney el Haddad) comes back to Lebanon and tries to revive a musical group he once formed with his high school companions. The group as a combination of love and hate, old passions and sexual (and homosexual) longings, Freudian relation to lost and (unfortunately) present fathers, dance movements, obsolete feelings and brilliant stage performances. The high school building was destroyed by the same pupils during the war. The dream of a triumph back-fires: the old guard of dabkeh (the local folk dance) does not accept its modernized techno version.

The film follows the journey of a reconstructed group throughout the country, following the ups and downs of intertwined new and old tunes. It is easy to foresee the victory of the protagonists, brought about by a post-modern political plot – a TV station looking for a better deal on a dabkeh festival. What is more difficult to foresee is the game of love and jealousy, ambition and greed, tenderness and passion. The high point of the plot is an on-stage competition with authentic dabkeh patriarchs and the young generation where everybody is a winner and nobody loses – just the opposite of politics in real life. This gives a sweet and sour result, despite a relative happy end.

The evident artistic quality of the film confirms the basic idea that the traditional divide between films d’auteurs and mainstream cinema is obsolete. Each film has a group of artists (even if it is difficult to judge who is who) and each film finds itself in a genre environment. Bosta deserves the highest artistic praise for commercial values and, unfortunately, political topicality. Could Lebanon dance and music win over guns and hatred? I am afraid not. But hope is still there.