28 June 2011

This year will mark the great watershed in Arab culture: what was written, filmed and produced before the revolutions of 2011 and what will come after. The early films of Joana Hadjithomas and Kalil Joreige, their debut movie Around the Pink House (1999) and the subsequent 52-minute documentary about the stolen reels of that film, The Lost Film (2003), prefigure the momentous events of 2011.

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The Lost Film sheds insight into why a revolution would eventually come to a poor fragmented country like Yemen seemly fixated on its then-president for life Ali Abdullah Saleh and the mildly herbal narcotic qat. The day the copy of Around the Pink House went missing was the same day that Yemen’s Islamic north was constitutionally unified with its Marxist south on 22 May 2000. In the north, cinema was for the most part nonexistent while the south, because of its militant tendencies, had a propensity for over-earnest documentaries.

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In a place where going to the movies was viewed as “eccentric” and for some against their religion, Around the Pink House had been screened in a decrepit cinema in Aden that concentrated more on action films of the violent variety featuring blondes with automatic weapons. It was lost on a bus ride from Aden to the capital city of Sana’a, a road trip the sleepless and worried filmmakers attempt to duplicate but along the way they meander, have bouts of paranoia, attend a traditional wedding, shoot guns and photograph themselves – it is an unlikely travelogue with artistic pretensions, ones that the filmmakers have the good graces to mock.

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Hadjithomas and Joreige – from the Ashkal alwan (the Lebanese Association of Plastic Arts) stable of artists and image makers – who have come out of Beirut’s art boom are better known for their feature film A Perfect Day (2006) and subsequent documentary Aida, Save Me (2010) about a real-life disruption to the premier of A Perfect Day. So they are adept at making a film and manipulating, as its foil, the non-film about the film.

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Around the Pink House is also a portent for countries coming out of revolution. The experience of Beirut has always been accelerated as it pertains to the lives of cities in the region. Post civil war, the Lebanese capital was demolished in the cause of development and reconstruction. In the film, two families fleeing a village in the country’s war-torn south cause comedic uproar in their neighbourhood as they fight their eviction from their home of eleven years, a pink mansion, in a highly desirable area near the downtown Beirut (something that only becomes clear at the film’s end once the camera pans above the immediate rooftops to the war-torn city centre beyond).

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The characters in the film seem almost Italian, always bickering, praying or trying to corral their young women. Once petitions, a son’s fascist militia and another son’s art, as well as a corrupt legal system, fail them, the families triumph through love, community and realism. Ultimately they invert the threat against them by turning the bulldozer on themselves.

\r\nOnce the now revolutionary countries of the Middle East are sucked into globalization and capitalism, they too will undergo a Beirut-style reconstruction of their rundown inner-city neighbourhoods, allowing for a new economic elite (who is really the old economic elite) to slide effortlessly back into power. While the people who fought so hard for reforms – some are still dying for them now – will be lucky if, like the families of the Pink House, get a little bit of government compensation for their hard-won efforts.
Malu Halasa (writer and editor)


The Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas Double Bill: The Lost Film and Around the Pink House will screening on Tuesday 05 July at 6.30pm. You can buy your tickets online here, in person at the Box Office or by calling 0871 902 7537. The screening will be accompanied by an introduction from Malu Halasa.

The Liverpool Arabic Film Festival runs from 04 - 10 July. Tickets are £6 or £5 (members/concs) per screening or you can buy a Festival Pass to all screenings for £50 or £45 (members/concs). You can find the full listings in the What's On section of the FACT website.