The Lebanese director explains why a very personal film about her father’s illness is a metaphor for the state of her homeland.
Lebanese director Noura Kevorkian’s 23 Kilometres explores living with Parkinson’s disease. Screening in Dubai’s Muhr feature competition, the film is a portrait of an elderly man who is fighting the illness, and ties in the fractured state of his mind with that of his native Lebanon.
“It is an impressionistic, experiential essay film where the audience gets to experience what it would feel like to have Parkinson’s disease,” says Kevorkian.
The director’s inspiration comes from first-hand experience of her father’s battle with the disease over a 20-year period. The title 23 Kilometres refers to a weekly trip he took along the Bekaa Valley stretch of the biblical Damascus Road, from their home village to the area’s main town. As a young child, Kevorkian would accompany him as a special treat.
The hybrid work juxtaposes real-life footage of the father as he struggles with the illness, alongside images of him as he undertakes his favourite trip one last time, stopping off in places of importance in his life such as the foundry he ran. There are also reconstructions of the past, with Kevorkian’s young daughter playing the film-maker and an actor playing her father.
In one haunting scene Kevorkian’s father walks down a path, side by side with his younger self and the film-maker as a child. The reconstructions are shot in bright, lurid colours in contrast to the real-life scenes.
Kevorkian explains this was an attempt to capture the hallucinations her father experienced due to the illness.
“Everyone knows about the physical impact of the disease — how it makes people tremor — but I was more interested in the psychological state, the hallucinations and the sense of loneliness, the isolation and imprisonment that victims suffer”
The film reflects on how the state of her father’s mind is in sync with the state of Lebanon. “My father lost 20 years of his life to war,” Kevorkian says. “As he makes the journey in the film, he thinks about his life, his past, and the civil war and his personal journey. That journey and the country’s journey are tied together. You realise that his body, which is full of disease and rotting from the inside, is very much in parallel to the state of his beloved country, Lebanon.”