28.6.05

Proud to be Lebanese?

Ok, I think this place can use a break from politics. So, how about... cinema? A friend of mine sent this e-mail that I thought warranted further airing; I'll just let it speak for itself:

During the Toronto Film Festival, I was very excited to learn that there were two Lebanese movies being screened, and I called my friends telling them that they had no choice; they were going to accompany me to sample Lebanese Cinema... Or so I thought!

Ziad Doueiri ("West Beirut") was introducing his "Lila dit ca". I was so happy to learn that, since I kind of liked "West Beirut". But when we were reading the info, under country we read: France. try explaining that to foreigners. "No he is really Lebanese, but must have studied in France and got his degree from there, and therefore he has the French nationality, but he is really Lebanese we7yet Allah (I swear to God), he has another movie about Beirut during the civil war, it is called 'West Beirut', I have it, do you want to see it? I swear he is Lebanese, wlak ma esmo Ziad! (His name is ziad)"

Tayyeb (OK), we couldn't find tickets for "Lila dit ca" anyway, but I was proud. "You see, he is that good, it is sold out". So we had to go for the next Lebanese director.

Wajdi Mouawad was introducing his movie "Le littoral". But once again, under country, we read: Canada. I did not know Wajdi beforehand so I had to research him and then explain to my "foreign" friends, again, "We7yet Allah he is Lebanese but his family emigrated when he was 8 years old, and therefore he has the Canadian nationality, but he really is Lebanese. Wlak ma esmo Wajdi!"

"Le littoral" portrays a Lebanese family that emigrated to Montréal, at the beginning of the war. When the father died, his only wish was to be buried in his village of origin in Lebanon. The son, who now can't speak Arabic, vows to fly the body and inter it in Lebanon, and there he has his "adventures" with Syrian blockades and cadaver snatchers and thieves.
During the movie, I felt very nostalgic watching our beautiful landscape, the blue Mediterranean, the mountains, the pine trees, the cedars, and especially the villages with the old vernacular architecture. But there was something weird about them, they did not feel quite... Lebanese; they were kind of artificial, but I enjoyed them. First of all, only one or two actors did not have accents. Everybody spoke Lebanese with a twitch. However, when the Syrians spoke, I could not understand a single word. I thought I wasn't concentrating, but then again, I was!

Secondly, when the movie was over, you could ask the cast questions (the director was not present), and indeed I asked. It turns out that the movie was filmed in Albania of all places (they could not get any insurance company to cover them in Lebanon). All the actors were Québécois, and the Syrian soldiers were Albanian. It is when they could not imitate phonetically the Arabic Language, that the director finally, and out of frustration, told them to speak Albanian, hoping that it would pass as Lebanese, and not a lot of people will know the difference anyway! I personally thought this was offensive to all Lebanese, as well as to most non-Arabic speaking audiences (those who care anyway). And I let them know my opinion. and interestingly enough, they agreed.

I wonder, couldn't they find good Lebanese actors that can speak French? Most of us are francophone; Lebanese actors won't need insurance! Actually they don't even need to speak French, because they would just speak Arabic and communicate with the staff in French or English; I think it is pretty manageable. They would just act, and they would be great at what they do... I can name 20 great Lebanese actors right now, young and old, that could have done an excellent job. I was frustrated!!!

But then again I started asking myself, why was I so upset, both these director didn't even claim they were Lebanese. So it is not a Lebanese movie after all. But really why do we hang on to the Lebanese abroad that have made it a point, not to be Lebanese? Why do we make it a point for everybody to know that they actually are of Lebanese origins? It was a comedy when Rony Seikaly left the NBA to play with the Lebanese national team.

They chose to use their western nationalities; they stand a better chance at being recognized and published this way. They have a better chance at being successful if they are NOT Lebanese. And who can blame them; it is sadly true! If they chose not to be Lebanese, then why do we hold on to them so bad? Why do we want to bring them back to their roots and to the "day3a" (the village)? We rejoice! Shakira is Lebanese, and so is Salma Hayek. You know what, I don't think so. Is Gibran Khalil Gibran Lebanese? Really? Is he? Well I think that much to our dismay, he chose to be American! Wlak ma esmo Gibran... Eh toz! Gibran bass amerkeneh! (His name is Gibran... So what? He is American!) [Interesting related article: Kahlil Gibran of America ]

Ziad.
100% Lebanese! - For now at least.

Ziad provided a long laundry list of celebrities "min 3inna (Lebanese)" that I am keeping out for space. He refers, however, anyone interested in finding more "unknown" Lebanese ("just in case we would like to adopt them") to ShooFiMaFi.com and http://www.todaysoutlook.com/lebanese/archive/index.htm

28 Comments:

At Tuesday, June 28, 2005 7:25:00 AM, Blogger arch.memory said...

(My reply to Ziad:)

I am very interested in the experience of the Lebanese abroad, and all the issues of identity and belonging that that stirs up. Unfortunately, there is this real dichotomy between the Lebanese in Lebanon and those abroad, and the issues of those abroad tend to be overlooked. And I think what you wrote brings a fresh perspective to a blog that has been largely dominated by political discussions recently, and I would be interested to see what people's responses are to what you brought up.

As for "Lila dit ça", here are some excerpts from an exchange that I had with my brother on another blog that I thought you might be interested in:


Me:
"I thought the movie was beautifully shot--perhaps a bit too self-conscious and deliberate in its cinematography. Lila was gorgeous, but I couldn't help feeling, in spite of all that, that it is simply a glorified Egyptian melodrama, with a better soundtrack. It was simply one of the most misogynistic and defeatist movies I've seen in a long time. Utterly predictable, and utterly immature! That desire to shock the audience with sex reminded me of myself a few years back, and thus struck me as totally immature! The fact that the movie was otherwise so conventional didn't help either."

My brother:
"I agree with you in that it is very self-conscious and wants to shock the audience with sex, quite immature. True. Then again I would not expect much more than that from Ziad Doueiri. Let us admit it; Ziad is no good, like "Ya Wled" was much better. Aslan, the fact that it had a huge success per se is a sign that it is too, well commercial. What are the elements of the commercial? What makes a movie accessible to everyone? Primarily, a certain flatness of the characters, and a mythological archetypal dimension they would have. A commercial movie addresses issues that are accessible to everyone and which, for them to be accessible to everyone, have to be simplified, codified, commonplace. It also tends to address the emotional side in the viewer rather than challenge her mind. Challenge here is also an important word because a large public presumably would not like something that resists their convictions and because the process of introducing novel things to the faculties of anyone (especially a large public) is not a pleasant one. Even I have a hard time watching something that really challenges my convictions, that introduces new stuff to my faculties. Hence, a commercial movie is by definition wanting in creation.

Yet I liked "Lila Dit Ca" because one more element in commercial movies is that they are likeable, and this in its turn is due to the previously mentioned fact that they address the sentiments. Exactly as you said, Lila is gorgeous and it is her the primary reason behind my liking of the movie. I do not know about you, but I know that I personally -and that it is quite a collective wish- have always somehow wished there would come this very pretty and crazy blonde girl who would shake me and turn my life upside down, and then leave. The notion of leaving (with its sisters distance and memory) I am sure you can tell me why it is so important, so magical. As Nayla and I stepped out of the movie, I told her how Lila's character was that of Mérimée's Carmen, a particularly favourite character of mine. In addition to them both being a gorgeous frivolous spirit that turns the stagnant life upside down, both manifest an intricately high tension between extreme sexuality and childish innocence."

 
At Tuesday, June 28, 2005 7:32:00 AM, Blogger arch.memory said...

(Ziad's response:)

The text is not at all about Patriotism (well maybe a tiny part of it), but it is surely not about “Their” patriotism, but it is mostly about “our” nationalism and namely mine.

Ye3ne, I never questioned Doueiri’s nor Mouawad’s patriotism…not at all. All I did was criticizing (cinematographically) Wajdi Mouawad’s movie; and I think my critique is valid and still stands. But I never put their sense of pride and belonging to the test.

The protagonist of the text is “us”; “me” (not the directors, or any of the Lebanese in the diaspora). I am questioning the pride we carry in our "being", and the thrill we get through the achievements of other Lebanese that, may have stopped being Lebanese a while ago.

I FELT the movies were Lebanese, since the directors carried Lebanese names (although the “maison de production” is something else)… and this is my mistake and this is exactly where my question resides… why did I do that? Why do we all always do that? Do we get pride and a glimpse of success through their achievements? Should we always claim them as Lebanese or should we just let them be?

Ye3ne, if you ask Salma Hayek (pardon my shallow example) are you Lebanese? She will probably answer... Yeah sure, why not... maybe originally.

If you ask ME, is Salma Lebanese? My answer would be... but of course she is, and she is from this or that village....

Don’t you think there is something weird there?

z.

 
At Tuesday, June 28, 2005 7:33:00 AM, Blogger arch.memory said...

Ziad, it seems you misunderstood me. I certainly thought your critique was valid and relevant. And there is nothing wrong with questioning their patriotism (and to which country), or patriotism in general. You certainly raise a point that I am sure we are all aware of to the degree of it becoming the butt of jokes: our constant bragging about the Lebanese origins of this and that. (And here I would disagree with you about your Salma Hayek example; I don't think she would identify as Lebanese, though she would admit to her Lebanese origins. And that is where the joke is, I think.) It certainly is something worth exploring in any case.

 
At Tuesday, June 28, 2005 9:45:00 AM, Blogger End racism said...

It's KHALIL, not Kahlil!!!

I really like West Beirut. It's a good movie.

 
At Tuesday, June 28, 2005 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Rampurple said...

ehem ehem carlos ghosn is a man that should be mentioned in the list.... google him...

 
At Tuesday, June 28, 2005 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Tempest said...

I sort of understand them doing this, some times...

 
At Tuesday, June 28, 2005 12:49:00 PM, Blogger Eve said...

Had they chosen to remain Lebanese, I wouldn't be sure as to how much our "State" would have helped them achieving the great things they eventually achieved. However, we cannot but notice that, although they have changed their nationalities, their true identity remains reflected in their work; in those little stories of nostalgia they recount in their movies. "Lila dit ca" wasn't awarded as much as "Ya wled". I wonder if that means something too. Some years ago, when Gabriel Yared won an international prize (forgot what sort of prize it was), he received a congratulating letter from Lahoud. His reaction was not that welcoming: "Now you remember me?"

I do understand them, but I just wish they wouldn't hold much grudge.

 
At Tuesday, June 28, 2005 1:55:00 PM, Blogger Delirious said...

I watched once Salma Hayek at a press conference in Cannes a few years back. When asked by a Lebanese journalist how she felt about being Lebanese, she merely shrugged it off by saying: "I'm a Mexican, born and raised in Mexico." Dunno if she has remembered her Lebanese roots since then...

 
At Wednesday, June 29, 2005 12:20:00 AM, Blogger arch.memory said...

Marsden, it's been a while! To answer your comment about Gibran's name, below is a passage from one of the most authoritative biographies on Gibran, "Prophet: The Life and Times of Kahlil Gibran" by Robin Waterfield. You can find Chapter One online at
http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/w/waterfield-prophet.html


"The full and proper Arabic name of the boy who would later become known to the world as Kahlil Gibran may be transliterated Gibran Khalil Gibran, with the extra forename and the aspirated `K'. So he would have entered America as Gibran (or Jubran, or Jibran) Khalil Rhame. In Boston, as soon as there are records of him, he is Kahlil Gibran. The family must have reverted to their proper surname once they were past the immigration facility, and Gibran more or less accepted the Westernization of his name by dropping the initial forename, and changing `Khalil' to `Kahlil'."

 
At Wednesday, June 29, 2005 1:41:00 PM, Blogger Mustapha said...

Not everyone is ashamed by their Lebanese roots. Celebrities suck anyway, besides, Carlos Ghosn keeps on coming to Lebanon, Giving interviews to Lebanese Journalists and was even once tipped as a potential presidential candidate.

It tickles me personally everytime my western friends tell me how much they like Lebanese food. I always tell them proudly: "you should see how it tastes like in Lebanon"

 
At Wednesday, June 29, 2005 3:02:00 PM, Blogger arch.memory said...

Hmmm... We really need to do something about this Blogger exclusivity; non Blogger members can't post comments here. So here's another comment from a non-blogger user:

Ya3ni ya Ziad you bring up a very good topic. First of all, it's not just Lebanese people that deal with this, speak with any other person who comes from another country, and you'll find that in their community they go through the same thing. It's not that Lebanese don't want to show their Lebanese-ness (their name is a dead give-away). Italian Canadians who have never been to Italy praise all things Italian, Indians, Greeks, etc ... and they make movies about them and open restaurants to proudly display their food etc ... but in reality none of it is real. It's all romanticized to keep the essence of their home country, and to suit the foreign public. Take French movies for example. Watching a 5 minute scene of someone walking down the street and getting into their car is not that appealing to a North American audience. But having Kevin Kline pretend to be a French man with a bad French accent and too much gel in his hair in French Kiss portrays the essence of being French. And that's the point. I find it's the same with 'ethnic' restaurants, look at at all the fusion food you're seeing now. How else are you going to please the general public if you offer them true ethnic food, you gotta dilute it with what the norm wants to appeal to the majority.

So then are these movies Lebanese or not, probably not, because how can you explain or translate Lebanon or Lebanese expressions to a John Smith. You gotta play on the stereotypes. And why would they go to Albania to film the movie? Bassita, to John Smith, it all looks the same. I've seen American movies that are supposed to be filmed in Lebanon with a desert and a camel for a backdrop. John Smith doesn't care.

We live in a society where anything goes, and everything is mixed. Don't try to look for pure-sang, if you want that, you gotta go to Lebanon, and make a movie that deals with the essence of Lebanon (whatever that is). Our kids if they are born here, although they will carry Lebanese names won't 'get' what it's like to live in Lebanon. If I have kids born in Canada, how can I explain to them what I feel when I think of Sandwich shish tawouk with kabiss and fries on the beach, or Ka3k bi za3tar on the Corniche, or being stopped at a 7ajez ... you get the drift.

Carole

 
At Thursday, June 30, 2005 9:16:00 AM, Blogger End racism said...

arch.memory,

well, that transliteration is incorrect, since the prounciation of it would be totally different. "kh" is a different sound than "kah". Anyway, I don't care what his name was on his ID, for me he remains Jubran KHalil Jubran.

 
At Friday, July 01, 2005 12:05:00 AM, Blogger Brian H said...

"unknown" Lebanese -- hilarious. I wonder how many are unknown even to themselves?!?

Emigrant communities often "freeze" at the cultural period in place when they left, and thus can be far more conservative and rigid in their national identity than current residents. This is often true in Chinese, Italian, Greek, and other communities or "ghettos". Later waves of emigrants who arrive are often unable or unwilling to fit in with the local living fossil culture. In any case, it tends to die out with the last of the first-generation emigrants.

 
At Friday, July 01, 2005 11:01:00 AM, Blogger liminal said...

Um, I'm not ashamed of being Lebanese.



I do, however, think it's more difficult to make all the connections with being Lebanese if you haven't collected experiences in Lebanon. (Duh)w I'm not saying you cannot be culturally Lebanese and never have have been there (or spent little time there)...because you can. It's just a bit different than being raised in a Lebanese family and being so lucky to be able to retur n often as I have.

I find that if I don't return to Lebanon regularly, my time and the feeling I have when I go back is more abstract. So, I feel like it's a must to go back as often as possible.

Ugh. I was supposed to be there at the moment. And I have family that took a trip there without me just now...I'm so upset.

anyway...

 
At Saturday, July 02, 2005 6:39:00 AM, Blogger Hussein said...

Guys, you are talking about being Lebanese as if it is something concrete that is clearly defined and tangible.

A person of Lebanese parents who lived all his life in, say France, is more French than Lebanese. Just like a kid of French parents raised in Lebanon would be more Lebanese than French. Why is that so hard for you to understand.

1)If you think it is something in the blood, you are bloody wrong. Humans are humans. Nations are created by humans and have nothing intrinsic or sacred about them.

2)Why should you feel proud of and relate to Khalil Jubran more than you are proud of and relate to, say Nietzsche? Afterall, both thinkers did great work that transcended the limited scope of nationalism. They represent human thought, not nations or races.

3) As kids we are brainwashed to worship our country. we are told that patriotism is a good thing. But we are never taught to be critical, to question what a country really is and what it means to belong to it. Afterall, its existence was a result of historical events, not divine intervention (whatever that is). Its existence is a very contingent fact, with nothing essential about it. It is so easy to imagine a world where that country doesn't exist in the first place. I would have then been worshiping some other political entity.

I like to view myself as a FREE AUTONOMOUS INDIVIDUAL (a la John Locke) always trying to transcend the boundaries of religion, nations, race, .... I do not expect you guys to agree with me instantly, but I do hope that you would think about this more.

 
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