in 6th Dubai International Film Festival

by György Báron

Goethe wrote somewhere that nothing is worth more than one day. The former pharmacist, Saudi-based editor-critic, Mohammad Aldhahri’s debut film tells one day of a young boy from dawn to dusk. The 28 minutes short is framed between two takes: in the beginning we’re watching sunrise through the window of the schoolboy’s bedroom. The closing shot shows the sunset of the same day through the cage-shaped window of the local prison of the Saudi religious police. In the morning the boy lives the ordinary life of a secondary school pupil: he’s bored during classes, playing with his classmates in the breaks and looking happy. In the afternoon he’s selling small goods to the drivers stopping at the traffic light of a crossing under the depressing shadow of concrete blocks of houses, at the foot of a highway-bridge. And at one point he sells his body to a young man who wears traditional white Arabic dress. It is obviously not their first encounter; the man is probably his regular client. When the religious police appear the man escapes and the boy – the victim – is taken to prison and beaten up there to teach him to obey the right behaviour.

Aldhahri tells this shocking story in a neutral tone, with long-shots, in a minimalistic style. In this cool, behaviouristic way of story-telling you cannot get closer to the events, you’re staying at a far distance, like an innocent pass-byer or a curious voyeur. The young filmmaker’s minuscule, worked out and balanced style is clear and puritan. There’s a strong tension between the refrained tone of the narration and the brutal events he’s talking about. Aldhahri’s brilliant film-novelette is set in the Arabic world, somewhere in Saudi-Arabia, his protagonists are all wearing long white Burnus, but this is not an Arabic story. The two main topics of Sunrise/Sunset are universal. One is the paedophilia, the other is the hypocrisies. Aldhahari’s camera is not focused on the crime itself but on the outer world in which these crimes could happen. Everything’s going on very smoothly as something natural and evident. The boy himself is also very impassive, accepting the rules of the adults. The filmmaker is on the side of the weak and victims in the cruel world of the strong and winners. He’s on the side of the kid (excellently played by the young Yosef Quatarmez), who is – as the catalogue of the festival states with a slight understatement – “in trouble” between sunrise and sunset.

Edited by Steven Yates