Hany Tamba's 2005 short After Shave (Beyrouth Apres-Rasage) marked the Lebanese director out as a major talent. Stunningly shot, witty and poignant, it won the French Cesar for best short film in 2006. Tamba is now editing his first feature, a comedy about a one-hit-wonder French singer (played by Patrick Chesnais), now a hotel receptionist, who is invited by a wealthy businessman to perform at his wife's birthday in Lebanon.
Produced by Emmanuel Agneray and Jerome Bleitrach's Paris-based Bizibi Productions, the $2.8m project has been snapped up by Francois Yon's Films Distribution for world sales, and pre-bought and co-produced by France 3 Cinema. The CNC and Canal Plus have also contributed funds. Tamba aims to have the film, tentatively titled Melodrama Habibi, finished in time for February's Berlinale. It will be released in mid-2008 by Haut et Court in France. France Television Distribution has taken French video and VoD rights.
Agneray describes Melodrama as "Lost In Translation in Beirut", while Tamba, fresh from the seven-week shoot in Lebanon and Paris, highlights the comedy's darker side: "The real subject is memory, with the songs being the trigger," the director explains. "The singer's presence in Lebanon allows us to delve into the 'collective unconscious' and discover a light-hearted view of Lebanon's history."
Tamba admits Lebanon's political tensions could have made filming stressful, but all went smoothly, and all the cast and crew enjoyed partying in Beirut when not absorbed in the shoot. Tamba salutes his "steadfast" Franco-Lebanese cast and crew, several of whom had previously worked on his shorts, including actress Julia Kassar (who also starred in Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas's 2005 festival hit A Perfect Day) and DoP Emmanuel Soyer.
Composer Khaled Mouzannar - who contributed to the Cannes hit Caramel - wrote the score, working with Chesnais on recording his character's 1970s-era songs. "Patrick is a real professional with 40 years of experience, yet he is always ready to try new things," says Tamba. "It was great to have him performing alongside talented Lebanese actors."
Paris-based Tamba says he has been dreaming of making features for years. He worked as a graphic designer and director of short films and TV ads for 20 years in Beirut, London and Paris, before taking six years to develop "1001 versions" of his feature screenplay, with help from Tamba's friend Michel Kammoun, another hotly tipped Lebanese director (Falafel, 2006).
Tamba also had "major encouragement" from Agneray and Bleitrach. The pair first worked with Tamba eight years ago, producing his debut short, Mabrouk Again!, which had extensive festival and TV play. "We have a relationship with Hany based on confidence and ambition," says Agneray. "We believe in his talent."
HANY TAMBA'S CULTURAL LIFE
Books: Scorsese On Scorsese, a book of interviews with Martin Scorsese - I dug it out recently. Films: The Lives Of Others.
Newspapers and magazines: Le Courrier International. It's a weekly resume of the world press, as I never got into the habit of buying newspapers on a daily basis, which also means I'm always a week late with what's happening in the world.
Websites: David Lynch's website seems like fun, although I'm not a member.
Inspirations: Everyday life, people, dreams, music, photos ... So far, Lebanon has inspired me the most.