Dir/scr: JoanaHadjithomas, Khalil Joreige. Fr-Leb-Ger. 2005. 88mins.
The perfect metaphor in search of a plot, thesecond feature from Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige assembles thenecessary ingredients to paint a portrait of life in Beirut but lacks thedramatic momentum to pull them all together and spark some life.
Set in the Lebanesecapital, A Perfect Day ostensibly follows a woman in her forties and herson, both still coping with their husband/father's disappearance 17 years ago.The real hero, however, is the city itself, a modern, teeming metropolisinfested by too many cars and too many mobile phones, as old and newuncomfortably rub up against each other, rising up out of ruins that stillharbour corpses from the recent past.
Shot mostly with ahand-held camera to enhance the atmosphere, and cut loosely so as not todisturb the static feeling of a world that physically seems active butemotionally is still immobile, it makes for a well-intentioned feature thatsadly has little drive.
With a past that isnever directly addressed and a sense that nothing is about to change very soon,it is the sort of piece that offers a multitude of symbols for the audience toponder on, but little to make them care for the characters.
It will surely beappreciated by festivals following its world premiere at Locarno, especiallythose devoting a section to the region, but sales prospects are likely to bemuted. Next stop: the Discovery sidebar at Toronto.
Opening as the daydawns, the story begins when Claudia (Kassar) begs her son Malek (Saad) topostpone a meeting with a lawyer that will declare dead his father, whovanished during the civil war. But Malek insists as he leaves the house thatthe appointment must be kept, and heads for a building site, introducinganother of the film's concerns; the changing face of the city.
Constantly trying tocontact his girlfriend, Zeina (Alexandra Khawagi), who refuses to pick up hiscalls, Malek reaches the lawyer's office, only to find his mother haspurposefully forgotten some of the documentation. From there they head forMalek's uncle, at which point a loaded gun enters proceedings.
Later Malek visits ahospital where he is diagnosed with narcoplepsy - a symbol of his helplessness- before finally meeting up with his girlfriend at a nightclub. They leavetogether and almost have sex - until she realises that she is falling back intothe same twisted pattern of life she tried to break before and leaves him oncemore.
The film-makers, wholive in Beirut, introduce several elements that help build a perfectly welldefined image of the city in 2005. Dramatically there is the mother who livesin the past and can't detach herself from it; the son who desperately desiresto leave it behind but is utterly impotent to do something about it; and thenarcolepsy, suggesting a symbolic state of mind.
Taking a wider perspective there is also the older generation which proudlymaintain they will not be taught new ways; the young generation which caresabout nothing; the need for around-the-clock security guards; the ever-presentfootball game in the background; and the obsessive consumption of nicotine as aself-destructive device.
But key to it allare the impassive protagonists themselves, who insist on doing nothing butwait. Their lack of initiative is exemplified by how a loaded gun is introducedin the first act but, against all the rules of drama, never has its triggerpulled; no one is sufficiently motivated to do so. It can only serve asmetaphor that violence still lurks in the background.
Julia Kassar playsthe mother with a touching mournful countenance, which stops being interestingonce its role has been made clear. Zaid Saad's lethargy doesn't really makemuch sense, and his character is too weakly drawn to deserve any empathy.
Mille et Une Productions
World Cinema Fund