Agate Mousse: Exploring the fear of mortality and the eternal cycle of life and death
In 1816 English Romantic poet John Keats wrote: "Life is but a day; A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way/From a tree's summit."
These few verses from the poem Sleep and Poetry could be an effective log line presenting the central themes of Selim Mourad's new film Agate Mousse, one of the most original titles taking part in the Tiger Competition of this year's virtual edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (1-7 February 2021).
The picture opens with a long list of names of extinct species recited by the Lebanese director's tranquil voice, followed by a static shot depicting him laying on a stretcher and waiting for the doctor to come.
While the practitioner visits him, Mourad breaks the fourth wall and reveals that the discovery of a deep-seated tumour in his testicle is going to force him to conclude the trilogy with this film, preceded by his two shorts Linceul (2017) and Cortex (2018).
The subsequent death of Mourad opens up an absorbing – and disorienting – self-reflexive journey on transience and decay, told through a strong visual focus on body and masculinity.
After Mourad's demise, his images mysteriously appear in an exhibition organised by a pretentious photographer and that marks the beginning of an intense "cinematic wandering," composed of painterly images, mythical references, staged sequences, philosophical commentary, circular frames and other forms of experimentation.
Moreover, in many of the scenes, Mourad's friend Tamara Saadé takes centre stage, and we see the two gradually becoming their own ancestors, and transforming themselves in symbols of the eternal cycle of birth and death.
Despite its deliberately fragmentary, cryptic narration, Mourad is able to masterly dissect, with admirable aesthetic sense, the fear of mortality and the vulnerability of bodies.
A dynamic score (courtesy of Mourad's close friends Serge Yared, Jean-Baptiste Luccio and Lama Sawaya), made of several variations echoing a wide range of music genres, accompanies the narration, enhancing this highly emotional viewing experience.
Speaking about the creative process and its peculiar dramaturgy, Mourad told The New Arab: "I started sharing some ideas about the film with Tamara [Saadé] during the first half of 2018. If compared with my two shorts, this film at least had a sort of basic script, and it wasn't totally improvised.
"I had a few lines' description for each scene, but I was ready to include unpredictable events, such as the long discussion between François and Tamara at the therapist's office or the cold, restrained answers of the doctor visiting me, who is also my real dermatologist," he added.
"In general, I worked on a thin boundary between the ideas I wanted to implement and the environment I had to deal with."
Along with the actors' freedom to improvise on set under the guidance of Mourad, post-production played a crucial role in building the film's profound philosophical meanings.
"I believe editing is the most exciting part. I worked with the same editor on the whole trilogy, Sandra Fatté. Usually, I shoot an extensive amount of footage and then we sit together in the editing room, watching it and realising what I was trying to say through those images," he told The New Arab.
Another striking feature of Mourad's work is represented by his choice to frame part of the film circularly.
"It was my own aesthetic desire. Once I was at a small exhibition in Beirut and I saw these beautiful photographs and some works impressed on zinc that were displayed in a circular form. While looking at one image after another, I experienced a sort of spiritual and artistic revelation. Maybe circularity touched me in a way that the squared shape couldn't anymore.
"Perhaps I was also influenced by the fact that circular form traditionally possessed divine qualities within the history of painting. I'm not a connoisseur, but I know that when I'm filming I need two, three elements that make me excited and circularity ended up being one of them. Besides, during the editing phase I found out that these circular frames could rotate and that was another surprising discovery," he explains.
The poetic painterly image preceding the closing credits attempts to convey – rather successfully – the essence of life and death's unstoppable cycle and is heavily influenced by Mourad's careful work on body and nudity.
The label "essay film," even though not fully embraced by the director himself, is still one that most closely describes the type of viewing experience offered by Agate Mousse.
Visually astonishing and confounding, the picture does not aim to provide answers on transience and mortality.
On the contrary, through its numerous philosophical references and suggestions, it instils Popperean doubts, inviting spectators to start their own personal path towards knowledge. Hopefully, this arthouse title will find the recognition it deserves on the international festival circuit and, later, through its distribution channels.
Davide Abbatescianni is an Italian film critic and journalist based in Cork. He works as a foreign correspondent for the EU-funded press agency Cineuropa, where he regularly writes about European cinema.
Follow him on Twitter @dabbatescianni
Conversation with the International Film Festival of Rotterdam around my film "Agate Mousse" that was selected for the Tiger Competition 2021.
Conversation with Rita Slaoui and Nadje Al-Ali from Brown's Center for Middle East Studies
"Mêlant [...] différents types d'images, agençant plusieurs histoires, passant de la
couleur au noir et blanc sans justification, laissant aux voix-off de deux personnages (Selim Mourad et Carole Abboud) un soin semblable de raconter le projet d'un film et l'histoire d'une famille qui défilent sous nos yeux au travers d'un montage non-linéaire, This Little Father Obsession ajoute la provocation à la poésie. Dès la première sequence, le film procure un sentiment d'étrangeté en s'ouvrant sur l'image d'un corps de femme qui passe sa tête dans une machine à laver. Cherchant à
obliger son père (Tony) à prendre la même place, le réalisateur se voit signifier l'absurdité de sa demande. L'absence de peur du ridicule et du mauvais goût qui se lit dans certaines propositions et images sont donc aussi souvent des scènes de confrontation. Selim déclenche par exemple la colère de son père en se présentant nu devant Siham et Tony alors qu'il leur avait proposé un portrait de famille. Dans une séquence située à la dix-septième minute du film, il confronte également ce dernier et le pousse dans ses retranchements en lui demandant s'il a déjà eu une relation avec un homme, quand celui-ci recherche une forme de cohabitation qui passe par le
fait de tenir ces questions dans le domaine privé. Refusant d'être seulement toléré, mais voulant être entendu et compris, le personnage-réalisateur va au plus intime de l'expérience, filmant ses parents et se filmant lui-même dans leurs lits notamment, et son film se présente sous une forme hétérogène qui pourrait l'apparenter au brouillon intime [...]"
À 29 ans, Selim Mourad est un cinéaste qui réfléchit le cinéma à sa façon, comme celle des grands penseurs qui l'ont accompagné dans la quête des secrets du 7e art.
À l'heure où ses copains pourchassaient un ballon de foot dans un terrain vague, Selim Mourad arpentait déjà les couloirs de l'Université Saint-Joseph dont les murs chuchotaient les plus belles phrases des grands penseurs. Il accompagnait sa mère qui occupait un poste administratif à la faculté des sciences humaines. Plus tard, en compagnie de son père, grand cinéphile, il écumera les classiques projetés dans la salle du cinéma Vendôme, et à l'heure de la fermeture, pour achever de parfaire son éducation cinématographique, il ira visionner des films en VHS loués d'une vidéothèque en voie de disparition.
Il entrera en biologie pour des études de médecine, mais y renoncera rapidement pour trouver finalement sa voie ailleurs.
Plan rapproché sur itinéraire à suivre
À l'inverse de Tom Baxter, le héros de Woody Allen qui, dans La Rose pourpre du Caire, sort de l'écran, Selim Mourad décide de pénétrer l'écran, de le traverser et de se poser la question : « Mais qui y a t-il derrière le cinéma ? » Sur les épaules, Mourad n'a pas seulement une caméra, il a une tête bien pensante et un désir d'aller toujours plus loin
Titulaire d'une licence en audiovisuel de l'Université Saint-Joseph, en 2009, d'un premier master en réalisation en 2012, le jeune étudiant décide de s'aventurer pour son second master dans le domaine de la recherche. Cette approche plus théorique et plus thématique exige en fin de parcours de présenter au jury une thèse sur une problématique en relation avec le cinéma. Les cours sont ciblés sur la pensée et sur la réflexion. Son étude portera sur une, en particulier : l'incidence de la théorie de René Girard sur le cinéma.
Remplir une salle ou expulser un vécu ?
On sait grosso modo ce qu'est un « bouc émissaire ». Une victime expiatoire, une personne qui paye pour toutes les autres. Avec René Girard, le bouc émissaire cesse d'être une simple expression pour devenir un concept à part entière, une théorie unitaire visant à expliquer le fonctionnement et le développement des sociétés humaines. Pour Girard, toute la culture est bâtie sur le mécanisme du bouc émissaire et le cinéma fait partie de la culture. C'est de là que Selim Mourad prendra le départ de son sujet de master pour établir le rapprochement entre les thèses anthropologiques de René Girard sur le mécanisme du bouc émissaire et son application sur le medium du cinéma. Et de se poser la question : « Le grand écran a-t-il une portée sacrificielle ? Le cinéma en tant qu'institution d'abord, dispositif et synopsis ensuite, est-il sacrificiel intrinsèquement ? » Ce rituel qui pousse à s'asseoir dans une salle obscure, en faisant le vide et éliminer tout le reste pour évacuer les émotions, est-il cathartique ou simplement violent ? Le jeune réalisateur ira chercher dans quel endroit exactement peut-on déceler les traces d'un rituel sacrificiel. Dans le concept lui-même ? À l'intérieur des films ou dans une institution qui forme des acteurs et des réalisateurs ? « On peut considérer, dit- il, que la mort de Marylin Monroe, de James Dean ou de Rudolf Valentino, victimes de cet engrenage infernal, et devenus bouc émissaires, a nourri le mécanisme du système et le sang a pénétré l'intérieur des rouages du cinéma. C'est ainsi que s'explique l'émergence du sacré. »
Sa recherche s'est appuyée sur l'œuvre de Stanley Kubrick qui dans Clockwork Orange met en scène l'homme guéri de sa violence par une projection ultraviolente. Et le cinéaste d'ajouter : « Existe t-il un cinéma non sacrificiel et le public a t-il envie de le voir ou va t-il s'ennuyer ? »
Au cours de sa licence, en 2008, Selim Mourad réalise un documentaire intitulé Lettre à ma sœur qui lui ouvrira plus d'une porte. Projeté deux fois à Metropolis, il gagne un prix à l'Oran Film Festival et au BBC Arabia (Alternative Cinéma program) C'est durant son premier master qu'il achèvera 4 films, « quelques-unes de mes plus belles œuvres », avoue t-il, dont : X La Conception, une fiction qui obtient la plus haute note jamais octroyée à un élève de L'Iesav. « Ce film était pour moi un moment de grâce, un projet comme un cadeau. » En 2017, il réalise le documentaire This Little Father Obsession qui voyagera à travers le monde : Fidba 2016 (Argentine), JCC Tunis 2016, le Safar Film Festival 2016 (UK), Cairo Critics Week 2016, Aflam Marseille 2016, Beirut Cinema Days 2017, QueerAsia SOAS, Londres 2017 et bientôt Berlin.
Celui qui a suivi un long parcours pour devenir ce qu'il est aujourd'hui est devenu à son tour un talent à suivre par le public, les professionnels du métier ainsi que par les amoureux du cinéma.
Rising Lebanese film-maker Selim Mourad addresses one of the Arab world's biggest taboos in his latest film: homosexuality. dpa asks the introspective screenwriter and director why he made the intensely personal film, and how he convinced his parents to take part.
Berlin (dpa) - "This Little Father Obsession," a documentary by 29-year-old gay film-maker Selim Mourad, brought to a close Berlin's first Arab independent film festival this weekend.
The 103-minute film, banned in his native Lebanon, has received accolades from prominent film festivals in the Arab world. It was screened in Berlin in the presence of Mourad, who wrote, directed and stars in the film, along with his parents.
The documentary follows the demolition of an inherited home and traces old family secrets, all tied up with Mourad's obsession about not having a child of his own.
dpa caught up with him after the showing.
dpa: What led you to make movies?
Mourad: I grew up loving storytelling and going to the cinema on a regular basis with my father, who was passionate about movies and acting. I used to be a top student at school, expected to be a doctor or engineer. But all of a sudden, my life was turned upside down as a result of figuring out my homosexuality, being different. Afterwards, I started my journey of self discovery which led me to recognize my passion for cinema as a profession.
dpa: Why did you tackle your sexual identity in a documentary?
Mourad: It is a 10-year-old promise to myself that I finally fulfilled. The script was developed from my diary as a teenager who couldn't share his thoughts about being gay. At that time, as I was hiding all these questions about having a family, raising kids, homosexuality, I promised myself that I would reveal my inner conflicts and tell those stories one day. By screening this film, I hope that gay youngsters will feel less conflicted.
dpa: What about choosing your parents as the main characters?
Mourad: The storyline stretched from a teenager revealing his homosexuality to ontological questions about family, death and reality in Beirut between 2013 and 2015. Later, my parents became the main characters of the story when I decided to use a dispute over the demolition of an inherited family house to embody visually my concerns about not being capable of extending our family line.
dpa: How did you introduce the project to them?
Mourad: My father knew about the theme of the documentary but I did not reveal the interview questions until we started to shoot the film. However, he didn't like the movie when he watched it recently. My mother didn't express her opinion.
dpa: At both the Cairo international film festival and the Carthage Cinema Days festival, the film was labelled as 18+. Did that affect your target audience?
Mourad: I don't think that the audience of film festivals is kids or teenagers; they are adults. There is no offensive content. Despite the nude scene of intimate moments between me and my love [referring to his now former partner], no sexual organs are shown on screen. I don't care if the defenders of public morals consider intimacy between two men to be offensive. The bourgeoisie is annoyed about swear words used by my father, but I see it as a way of expressing anger.
dpa: Sex is a taboo subject in the Arab world. Do you challenge it on purpose?
Mourad: The answer to this question could be 'Yes' and 'No.' On the one hand, I am not so stupid that I would stalk taboos just in order to break them. On the other hand, I am eager to dig into human nature and reveal untold stories. Therefore, the camera must shed light on these hidden places.
dpa: Did you try to screen the film in Lebanon?
Mourad: We were aware of Lebanese anti-homosexuality laws that could lead to my imprisonment, so we haven't screened the film in the theatres. Instead, there have been private screenings.
dpa: Do you anticipate any changes for the gay community in Lebanon and their acceptance in society?
Mourad: I am optimistic. The [anti-homosexuality] law that dates back to the French colonial period has not been frequently enforced since Lebanese LGBT rights groups worked on suspending it. However, such a fundamental change [social acceptance] will not take place soon in the light of serious threats from Daesh [Islamic State] as well as more urgent issues in the Arab world like the war in Syria.
dpa: How did you feel when you received Carthage's Special Jury Award?
Mourad: I was delighted at receiving such recognition. I always look forward to the feedback from the audience and critics since I don't make films only for my own pleasure.
dpa: Do you face any obstacles from Lebanese film-makers in connection with your sexuality?
Mourad: The Lebanese film-makers' community is quite open-minded, and accepts a variety of human natures. I am not the only one who has an alternative sexual identity.
dpa: Will your next film tackle homosexuality?
Mourad: I am interested in the conflict between sex and religion. In other words, lust and law from an anthropological perspective. I am co-writing a long-format fictional film which will touch on this conflict. However, it does not address homosexuality.
Selim Mourad was one of the friendliest faces I’ve encountered during the 38th edition of the Cairo International Film Festival. His energy, oozing with excitement and awe at the city –Cairo, the capital of Egypt- didn’t mirror the heavy subject matter which he chose for his first long documentary This Little Father Obsession which translated –impressively- into a different Arabic title The Austrian Emperor. The Arabic title was derived from a scene where the father comments on the son not having kids –because of his homosexuality- with a casualness that could be implying more than it intended; that he was not the Austrian Emperor, so why should anybody care whether he had children.
Mourad made a personal film that documented a transitional stage in his life, as well as his family’s. He was just coming out to his family when they had to sell the ancient family home for money to survive. So there was an act of creation and another of destruction; where did a 28-year-old gay Lebanese man find his footing?
“I hate labels. I can’t be saying that I am making a “gay” movie. It is a film where the director happens to be gay. My family history is the main plotline through which my sexual identity happens to contribute to the course of action.”
The film comes during a tough time for Mourad and his family. He was grappling with the idea that he would be the last Mourad. His family ends at him. He found himself at a place where he is even unsure of his willingness to contribute to the Mourad bloodline.
During the film, Mourad sought an adopted Uncle –André- whom his grandfather had adopted when he thought he wasn’t going to have kids. But then his grandfather remarried after his first wife died, had two kids with his new spouse and ended up kicking André out of the house and dismissing him from the family heritage.
“I searched for the adopted Uncle family to try and rub the guilt of being the last Mourad off my skin. I found that he had children and his children had children. It was very weird because in our mind we always thought we were the original Mourads while they were the unoriginal Mourads but as I saw his extended family I became a bit confused on what it meant to be the real son and the substitute.”
Questions like that are deep in action throughout This Little Father Obsession. Selim Mourad received critical comments such as this one from a viewer: “I was disappointed by the film. I thought I would see what gay life in Beirut was like.” But Mourad’s film had a different focus that was both personal and universal. He drew on particular themes that concerned him and yet stretched out to comment on longevity and continuity through parenting. The family tree ended with Mourad because he was gay and couldn’t have children, but now that a possibility of a gay couple adopting is not so far away from the Arab world, would Mourad consider that as a branching out of the family tree. Why so many questions without an answer?
“It’s so boring,” Mourad answers with that wicked smile. His positivity is infectious even though he was being interviewed by one of the biggest pessimists; my humble self. As the film stretched on it was so obvious Mourad wasn’t going to offer easy answers. He made a film that allowed audiences to think and reflect on the life of a man whose life seemed so far away from theirs.
“You’re just like my father,” he commented on my pessimism. In a back and forth scene between Selim and his father, Mourad, the father comments on why his son’s state –as a gay man in the Arab world- scares him. He fears that his son might get killed.
“Things are already dark when you’re normal, so just imagine when you’re not!”
Art communicates Faster than Words
Being an Egyptian who never really got a chance to become acquainted with the Lebanese culture –despite having Lebanese roots- and Mourad being an Arab man who never got a glimpse of the golden age of Egyptian cinema, there was a bit of miscommunication. Most of the time, we Egyptians presume the Arab world to be pretty familiar with our dialect. Egyptian films and TV series are all over the Arab world so they must all understand what we are saying verbatim. Meeting Mourad shook my beliefs to the core and gave me the chance to reflect on what it actually means to understand each other. We resorted to using the universal English tongue to try and get out of certain irksome situations. He asked for kabees and I thought he wanted a heavy, fatty meal. But turns out kabees is “pickles” in Lebanese dialect which translates into mekhalel in Egyptian dialect!
Miscommunication hovered over how (some) audience members perceived Mourad’s art. Many people went into the cinema expecting a scandalous film, a stereotype of how they expected young, gay Lebanese men to live their lives. What they saw was a prolonged, serious tale that stretched out for longer than anticipated.
This Little Father Obsession and the Queer Gaze
The film represents a very rare and positive queer gaze, rarely seen in an Arab film, within an industry infested with heteronormativity and –sadly- misogyny. After legendary Egyptian queer director Youssef Chahine, a queer gaze becomes more of a token than a surprise. It wasn’t his conscious decision while making the film of course, but still he doesn’t give a definitive answer to where he actually belongs;
“I can’t say that being myself takes us away from the regular male gaze, but I don’t know if it makes us enter into the queer gaze.”
From what I see, Mourad’s treatment of his subjects; male and female, takes us away from a heteronormative treatment of a person in front of the camera. His nudity, a stark and refreshing realization of the “self” rather than an exposure to satisfy and titillate the male gaze, becomes a testament to what’s gay and what’s not, at least in the eyes of a regular viewer.
“The naked scene, to my father it meant being “gay” right in the face. All the while he and my mother treated me like a baby ever since I came out. My father never asked me about my sexual life so for him this scene was my admission of being gay. Maybe if I were straight he wouldn’t have reacted that severely.”
The nudity in Mourad’s film wasn’t just an excuse for the actor/director to take his clothes off. It was more of an artistic expression both thematically and metaphorically. In one scene, Mourad lies naked while ghosts of his ancestors in different costumes pertaining to varying eras huddle around his body. Mourad throws back the inspiration behind the sacrificial image to religious iconography in churches. It could also be a tribal image precipitated into his mindset through ancestors he never even met. In another striking shot, his father and mother cry tears of blood, Selim also recites the image of the Virgin Mary crying tears of blood as one of the biggest influences behind that scene. Mourad’s sense of humor could be clearly seen through his mix of religion and nudity. He also sees it as a testament to how kids have grown out of their parents’ restrictive asexual cocoon of faux safety. To his parents, he had probably been always perceived as Selim the kid; even after coming out. But his nudity is the queer guy coming out of the closet in the literal sense; stark naked, unrestrained and uncontrollable.
Always a Question, Never a Resolution…
Despite the film ending in a graveyard and dealing with heavy subject matter such as infertility, destruction and dysfunctional familial ties, it really has a positive undertone that seeps through. Not a single moment did I feel burdened by the heavy subject matter or was unable to sit through even with the very impressive 104 minutes length. It felt as if –like the family- I was waiting for a resolution that never came. A possibility that never reached the surface?
“Gay people are –theoretically- not supposed to procreate,” Selim comments, “just to be the best versions of themselves. If I am straight and my name is Q, then I’m supposed to have kids and allow them to become R, S and T. But if I’m gay, then I’m supposed to make the transition in-between those letters from Q to R, S and T on my own. This is why the queer journey is much more loaded from my perspective.”
What strikes a nerve in This Little Father Obsession is how it uses its creator’s sexual orientation to reflect and reject standard patriarchal norms through its core ideology –continuity through the preservation of kind and name. I saw it as a very “Arab” film that dealt with the patriarchal norms of fathers giving blood and name to sons, while Mourad wondered if it had a more universal aspect to dealing with patriarchy in general. In providing a work of art with no resolution whatsoever, Mourad not only allows his handling of the subject matter to prevail, but in questioning even his own MO, he gives way for speculation and dissertation, which challenges the archetypal depiction of a man’s sexual conflict on the screen.
Being Selim Mourad…John Malkovich Style
Mourad and I rarely agreed on anything regarding This Little Father Obsession which brought me to the brilliant quote by American playwright Arthur Laurents, “Nobody really sees the same movie.” What I perceived as a female living within –the narrator Carole Abboud, who is Mourad’s friend, producer and actress- was his idea of having conversations with the dead sister whom he never knew. It could be the same but for a male director to have a female alter-ego, let’s take a deep breath and reflect on this for a second. Not only does he defy patriarchal norms, but the thin line between genders is also crossed. If his dead sister was his other self, than how much of Selim Mourad was male or female? Where did the gay man stand from the child yet discovering who he was and where his place in the world could be? What about the female self? What did it represent? Does it require us a queer gaze to discover the otherness within our gender-defined selves?
Mourad’s other films -six shorts of varied lengths- have underlying themes of death, religion and sexuality connecting them all together. Mourad is of Christian upbringing. It is so easy to notice how religion suffused its way into his films, both as a constant presence as well as a background to a less restrained, sexual foreground. The mise-en-scène in more than one film reflects a certain “Selim against self” conflict where everything he has been fights with the young man he is trying to be.
Selim Mourad draws from within himself a rich, complex world. Sins of the fathers tag along in his documentary This Little Father Obsession, but they don’t define the sons. Talking to him –and writing it all down- was a grueling task, only made harder by the sensitivity of his artistic expression and his attention to detail. In the end, though, one compelling work of art has been documented and secured in my memory as a writer forever, hopefully preceding many more from this fresh-faced, Lebanese talent!
تاريخ النشر: الأربعاء ، 2 نوفمبر 2016 - 15:38 | آخر تحديث: الأربعاء ، 2 نوفمبر 2016 - 20:0
يسأل المخرج والده، الذي صار على علم بأن وحيده مثليّ الجنس: هل تعرف أنني لن أنجب أطفالاً؟ فيجيب الأب الذي يستفزه محاولات ابنه الدائمة فتح أحاديث عن هذا الموضوع: وهل يفرق مع أحد أن تنجب أو لا تنجب؟ أنت لست امبراطور النمسا كي ينتظر الجميع نسلك كي يستلم العرش، لكن المدهش هو يقيننا بأنه حتى ولو لم يكن الابن امبراطوراً، فهناك شخص واحد على الأرض يحلم بذريته هو بالتحديد الأب صاحب العبارة المستهجنة.
من الرد الساخر يأتي سليم مراد بعنوان فيلمه التسجيلي المثير "امبراطور النمسا"، والذي شاهدناه في أيام قرطاج السينمائية ضمن مسابقة العمل الأول، عمل مقتحم وجرئ على مستوى شكله ومضمونه.
المضمون متجاوز لكل القيود والمحاذير المعتادة حتى في أكثر الأفلام العربية جرأة، المخرج هنا لا يُفصح عن مثليته فحسب، بل يُدخل المشاهد معه في أسئلته الحياتية المرتبطة بهوية جنسية لا يزال القطاع الأكبر من المجتمعات العربية يراها جريمة تستحق العقاب، هذا شاب لا يتسائل عن ميوله وإنما يطرح إشكاليات تنطلق من التسليم بها: لماذا لا يريد والدي أن يتحدث معي حول هذا الأمر؟ وهل سأكون سبباً في انقطاع سلسال العائلة فأرحل دون أن أترك من يليني في هذا العالم؟
خيارات جريئة بصرية وصوتية
سليم مراد يتعامل مع تيهه بما يلائمه بصرياً من حيرة وإطناب، فهذه إشكاليات لا يمكن بحثها في مقابلات تسجيلية على النمط التلفزيوني، وهذه مآزق لا تصدم صاحبها في لحظة عابرة، بل هي أمور تسير معه كتفاً بكتف، كل يوم في حياته، يؤجلها أياماً ويتفادي التفكير فيها، ثم يعود وينشغل بها لتملاً ذهنه وخياله فيضيع فيها من جديد.
على هذه الشاكلة يأتي البناء الذي اختاره المخرج لفيلمه، يزرع السؤال بشكل خافت في أذهاننا، ويجعلنا نفتش معه عن إجابة تشفي ظمأ طرفي الحكاية، الأب والابن، الأب الذي يتظاهر بقبول الوضع لكننا نوقن أنها اضطر للتعايش معه لأنه ما من سبيل آخر لا ينتهي بقطع العلاقة مع وحيده، وبالتالي لا نصدقه عندما يسخر من سؤال انقطاع الذرية، فهو في سويداء قلبه ولو أنكر، والابن الذي يعبر عن هواجسه بصورة أكثر تجريداً، فيها تلاعب بالتكوينات والألوان، ومشاهد مصنوعة يحادث فيها امرأة هي صورة لجدله مع الذات.
طريق المخرج يقوده للتفتيش في ماضي أسرته، وبينما نسمع صوتاً يردد أبناء داود حتى الجيل العشرين ربما، يصل سليم مراد لشجرة مماثلة سيكون هو آخر أوراقها، رابطاً هذا بالمنزل القديم الذي يريد الأب أن يهدمه ليصعد مكانه بناءً حديثاً فترفض السلطات حفاظاً على التراث. فكل شيء هنا هو جدل بين التراث والمعاصرة، بين مبنى قديم لا يستفيد منه أحد رغم شاعرية وجوده، وواقع فيه الإفادة ممتزجة بنسف الذاكرة، وبالقبح على الأرجح.
التوظيف ذاته لشريط الصوت يتكرر فيما يتعلق بالدين، وهو بطبيعة الحال مهمش في حياة الأسرة التي قبلت مثلية ابنها، لكنه ليس غائباً كلياً، بل هو هناك في مؤخرة الرأس، في وعظة تصم اللوطيين وتعدهم بالجحيم، في قول هنا وهناك، نسمعها أيضاً في مؤخرة رأسنا حسب البناء الصوتي للفيلم، في استكمال لتجربة المخرج الساعية من البداية لوضع المشاهد ـ على الأقل جزئياً ـ داخل عقله هو، أن يكون الفيلم هو النسخة المرئية والمسموعة من أفكار صاحبه، وهو خيار لا ينقصه الجرأة، بل يكاد يكون أجرأ حتى من تصريحه بميوله، فهو لا يفاخر بالتصريح ولا يتاجر به، بل يترجمه لمشاهد هي الأخرى غير مريحة، مخاطراً حتى بالتعاطف الذي لا يريده "امبراطور النمسا" ولا يستجديه.
بين الأب والابن
وإذا كان علماء النفس يصفون علاقة الابن بأبيه هي واحدة من أكثر العلاقات تعقيداً، فإن هذا الفيلم يعرض واحدة من أصعب صور هذه العلاقة، صورة الأم فيها غائبة حاضرة بينما من الأب ينبع كل شيء ويعود. المثلية والذرية والتراث والدين وكل ما يعبر الفيلم به هي مجرد هوامش وتنويعات لشرخ مؤلم لا يلتئم، وعندما يصيح المخرج في أحد حواراته مع والده الذي لا يريد إجابة أسئلته "هل تريد أن نظل نتحدث عن الطقس حتى وفاتك؟"، فهو يعبر تلقائياً مأزق العمر، عن حوار حتى وإن دار بينهما فهو يحوم حول الأمور ويتجاهل الحقائق المؤلمة.
في هذه المكاشفة المؤلمة التي يتعرى فيها سليم مراد من كل تحفظ أو مداهنة للذات أو للآخر داخل الأسرة وأمام الشاشة، تظهر قيمة "امبراطور النمسا" الذي يمكن اعتباره واحداً من أفضل وأجرأ وأنضج الأفلام التسجيلية التي شاهدناها خلال العام الحالي.
The Arab British Centre
This brilliant film is beautifully shot in Lebanon and takes us on a journey to see the dynamics between Selim, who is queer, and his family. The film starts with a woman on all fours with her head inside a washing machine. At the beginning of the film, you cannot tell whether this film is fiction or not. The film is based on real characters where Selim films his parents and some members of his family, he pictures the day to day family relationships in a light and funny way.
The film breaks many boundaries and discusses several issues that are considered 'taboos' in the Middle East. The director mainstreams the topic of homosexuality throughout the film in a way that makes it part and parcel of it, but not the main focus. He brings up the issue in conversations with his mother and father spontaneously and sometimes asks questions and probes further based on different contexts. Additionally, he depicts the roles both of his parents perform, and shows how those roles are very much gendered in relation to the way they deal with their son's homosexuality.
What is fascinating about the film is that Selim breaks away from the stereotype that Arab families are homophobic and backwards. He instead portrays a picture of his parents processing his sexuality, and the way they negotiate his position within the family and society. It is a great way to start a conversation about parents' feelings with regards to having a queer child. This portrayal of family dynamics challenges the labels and stereotypes about families in the Middle East. His relationship with his parents is based on compassion and love despite his sexual orientation, which is still not acceptable in Lebanon. This point shows the complexities yet the simplicities in the way one can negotiate with their families about their own 'private' life and choices.
The film raises important questions about the difficulty same sex lovers face to have and bring up their own children. These difficulties are manifested in their inability to transmit familial blood, and to 'preserve' the whole image of the 'blood-related family'. Highlighting the collectivism of the Lebanese society, Selim shows that much priority is given to the family unit and the community, rather than the individual within that community.
I would like to conclude by saying that the trailer of the film does not give it justice, and that once you see the film you realize that it has a lot to offer and a deep message to convey. It is an absolutely remarkable and inspiring film and I do encourage everyone to watch it. The film raises important questions and issues that we usually brush under the carpet, because of socialisation and upbringing that can be limiting and restrictive.
Part of Safar Film Festival
Interview with BBC Arabia