RESISTANCE(S) VOLUME II (DVD)

“Resistance(s) Volume Two” is the eye-opening and exciting follow up to Volume One from the Lowave DVD label. Once again, Lowave is offering an opportunity for viewers to experience new, high quality experimental film and video by artists from the Arab world, in an excellently produced package which includes a detailed booklet as well as interviews, artist bios, and subtitles in English, French, German and Arabic. Here are some highlights from the disc:

In “Nouba,” Katia Kameli uses the saturated color of Super 8 footage of a “women’s party” at an Algerian wedding, and slows down the frame rate to match the film’s techno style music. (The uncredited music is the kind of dance music from the Arab world which one might hear on a Buddha Bar compilation.) We see the delighted faces of many women and girls, dancing together in a physically confident, celebratory way. The only person who does not appear to be enjoying herself is the bride. Although Western viewers may not be familiar with sex-segregated wedding celebrations, the story of the bride who isn’t having fun at her own wedding may be a universal one.

“Resistance(s)” also features another film, also made by an Arab woman living in the West who shoots her footage while attending a family wedding in the Arab world. Pauline M’Barek shot “Geographie Imaginaire” at her cousin’s wedding in Tunisia, and, like “Nouba,” it depicts a world of women. M’Barek does not speak Arabic and was not too familiar with Tunisian culture and ritual, and she focuses her camera, usually in close-up, on intimate, physical details: a girl taking a breath, a dog barking, henna tattoos on hands and feet. We see social moments, private moments, and moments from the wedding ritual. The soundtrack is a carefully wrought collage of ambient sounds: tinkling jewelry, water, the rustle of clothes, and the music and ululation from the ceremony. Unable, because of the language and cultural barrier, to understand the event in its full cultural context, M’Barek invites us to experience the wedding in the same way that she does: through immediate physical details, so that we pick up whatever information we can in a prelinguistic way. Her expert sense of editing and collage makes the experience never less than fascinating.

In Bouchra Khalili’s compelling documentary “Straight Stories,” we hear interviews with a variety of Europeans and Moroccans, living on both sides of the Straights of Gibralter. The images, shot from boats going across the water, literally show the space between the Arab and European worlds. In the interviews, we hear inhabitants of these border towns both idealizing and denigrating the “other” culture. This simple premise provides a revealing portrait of the mental maps people create of cultural differences.

The footage in “Amer & Nasser, Iraqi Brothers,” by Al Fadhil must have originally been only a few seconds long, but it is here slowed down to four and a half minutes. We see two men, blindfolded, being forced onto a truck by a group of soldiers and driven away. The incredibly slow motion highlights the fear and tension of the scene, greatly amplified by the desperately sad flute music of Mounir Beshir. A title card informs us that these are two brothers who participated in the 1991 Iraqi uprising against the Sadam Hussein regime, an uprising that was encouraged by the Americans and then brutally repressed by the regime. By expanding this single moment, Fadhil speaks volumes about the hopes, fears, and desperation of Iraqis (and of all people confronted with political repression.)

In “Before Vanishing,” an accomplished student film by Joude Gorani, we see a portrait of the Barada river and the Syrian town of Damas built around it. The Barada is drying up due to pollution and overuse, and the film shows a local example of the kind of water crisis being faced by communities around the world. As Gorani follows the river from source to mouth, we see children playing, nightclubs, and people eating, resting, talking, and working in a factory. In an interview with a family which is seen sitting alongside the river, the son exhibits a surprising sense of inferiority about Syria as an “underdeveloped country,” and assures the filmmaker, who lives in France, that France must be superior. Gorani effectively uses the river as a structural device in her film in order to reveal to us the daily life of Damas.

Jalal Toufic’s “Saving Face” is an intriguing portrait of the giant posters, featuring the faces of candidates, which cover the walls of Beirut prior to a 2000 election. The film makes no specific comments about Lebanese politics, but the posters, pasted on top of one another many layers thick, seem like an alien imposition on the landscape. A man works laboriously throughout the film to remove the posters, piece by piece, with a paint scraper. This process affords Toufic an opportunity to highlight numerous bizarre visual compositions, in which bits and pieces of the different faces are all jumbled together in the half-scraped-away posters. Thus the film has both political and purely visual interest.

At 29 minute, the longest and, to me, most beautiful film in the collection is “A Few Crumbs for the Birds,” Nassim Amaouche’s haunting portrait of Ruwayshed, a Jordanian town just over the border from Iraq. There are few inhabitants and almost no economic activity in this crumbling, impoverished border town. (Residents remember nostalgically a brief moment, during the recent American invasion, when hundreds of foreign journalists descended here.) A few guys are trying to sell cans of gasoline, brought by Iraqi refugees, at the side of the road, but there are few buyers. A family of female Palestinians escaping from Baghdad are seen elaborately putting on makeup for their work in the town’s seedy hotel/bar, where they serve the scattered customers.

A haunting and beautiful song, “Goulli” by Palestinian artist Moneim Adwan and Pêcheurs de Perles, is heard throughout. Amaouche uses this song as a device to draw out comments from a Syrian man working in the hotel and one of the men selling gasoline. The song, apparently a very old popular love ballad about a man who sends messages to his beloved by carrier pigeon, brings out feelings of longing and exile in everyone who hears it. (There doesn’t seem to be anyone in Ruwayshed who actually comes from the town.)

Amaouche’s gorgeously dark and moody DV photography, and his slow spacious editing style create a moving portrait of the loneliness and marginality of this place. At the end of the film, the Jordanian intelligence service becomes very nervous about the filmmakers, and asks them to leave, suggesting sites where they can shoot picturesque scenes of camels and waterfalls. When the filmmakers refuse, the hotel is ransacked overnight and the gas-sellers are made to close up shop. It is a final irony that when an artist tries to shine a light on this forgotten, liminal space, his attention itself destroys the livelihoods of individuals, who are then forced to flee to the next refuge.

“Resistance(s) Volume Two” is another must-see collection of experimental films from Lowave.

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