What I love most about foreign films is the fact it takes us out of our element. Now add back the American/Western element, and it creates a whole new dynamic. Are You Glad I’m Here is a nice little hybrid of a foreign film about an American ex-pat befriending her Lebanese neighbor blending English and Arabic in this delightful film about friendship.
From director Noor Gharzeddine, Are You Glad I’m Here opens at a military checkpoint in Lebanon as a large truck driven by an extremely nervous Lebanese family along with a single American woman, are asked to search the contents of its trunk. As the silent group feigns innocence, we jump back eight weeks to the beginning of this tale.
Kirsten (Tess Elliot) is a U.S. teacher living in Beirut, Lebanon teaching at a nearby middle-school (or high school). On her way home, Kirsten picks up a few groceries, and while ascending the stairs to her apartment, a young boy runs into her spilling her bags. It is here that Kirsten is introduced to her neighbor Nadine (Marwa Khalil) and their friendship is born.
“Cultures soon clash when Nadine’s husband is revealed…to be abusive to Nadine and a slimy womanizer…”
Cultures soon clash when Nadine’s husband, Pierre (Najeeb Zeitouni) is revealed to Kirsten to be abusive to Nadine and a slimy womanizer to her. Kirsten’s western sensibility immediately wants to protect Nadine, but things are not that simple in Lebanon.
Are You Glad I’m Here is a fantastic film for two reasons. First is its performances from Tess Elliot and Marwa Khalil. The entire film hangs on this relationship for the most part. Their friendship is real. It builds as the two leads embrace one another’s cultural differences. For Nadine, much of her connection with Kirsten centers around food and for Kirsten, it’s smoking.
Second, the film highlights cultural attitudes toward women in both cultures. Kirsten is an independent woman making her own choices and speaking her mind without fear of offending. Nadine was once studying to be a professional in university but gave up on her ambitions to be a mother. Kirsten’s bold stance against Pierre gives Nadine the support she needs to find her own independence and confront Pierre about his philandering.
“The entire film hangs on this relationship…their friendship is real…”
Where Are You Glad I’m Here goes wrong is in the third act, when the focus is taken away from Kristen and Nadine and goes to cleaning up the mess they made, leading to the border incident at the start of the film. The two leads now become supporting characters, and Kristen virtually falls into the background until the end. The events of the third act focus primarily on Nadine confronting her family about her marriage and feels wasted as the stakes are not played high enough to warrant diverting attention from Kirsten and Nadine’s relationship.
In spite of the third act, Are You Glad I’m Here is a sweet tale of friendship and independence set against the backdrop of American and Middle Eastern cultural differences. All tied together by fantastic performances from the film’s lead. If you’re hesitant about reading another foreign film, rest assured in the fact that you’ll only need to read half of it.
Are You Glad I’m Here (2018) Directed by Noor Gharzeddine. Written by Samuel Cyrenius Anderson. Starring Tess Elliot, Marwa Khalil, Najeeb Zeitouni. Are You Glad I’m Here screened at the 2018 San Diego International Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars