“Resistance(s)” is a DVD series of experimental films by artists from the Middle East which is produced by the Lowave label, and the new Volume 3 is just as fine as the first two. Like the others, this disc comes with a booklet full of background information. A special feature of this series is that each artist has her own interview film, but these “interviews,” rather than being traditional question and answer sessions, are really bonus films, in which the artist creates a complementary work which helps give a context to her film. Here are some highlights from the new collection:
Many of these artists live in the West, and several of these works express the strange double consciousness of the exile and the ex-patriot. In “3494 Houses + 1 Fence,” Lebanese artist Mireille Astore, now living in Australia, contrasts fast shots of suburban homes in peaceful Australia with longer shots of a bomb-damaged landscape in Beirut. Astore uses a simple formal structure and a soundtrack of bombs and guns to create a striking picture of her awareness of the contrasts between her memories and her current life.
“We Began by Measuring Distance” is a beautiful and poetic nineteen minute film essay by Basma Alsharif, a Palestinian artist working in Lebanon. She uses a poetic voice-over narration, an evocative sound collage of music, wind, and voices, a variety of metaphorical images such as jellyfish and snowy landscapes, plus archival footage from Palestine, to meditate on distance, the preoccupation of a people forced from their own country. Alsharif implies that, ironically, the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem is very small in miles, while the psychic distance seems unbridgeable.
Larissa Sansour, a Palestinian artist living in Denmark, contributes a two minute piece called “Run Lara Run” which seems like a simpleminded parody of “Run Lola Run.” A girl in a red helmet is seen running through the Occupied Territories, surrounded by fences and barrier walls, to the sounds of a techno beat. The “interview” film Sansour has created, however, is not an interview at all but another experimental film which is a four minute remix of the same footage with many other images, including shots of the artist as a gun-toting hero in a Western, and as an astronaut planting a Palestinian flag on the moon. When we see her, in her space suit, waving sadly back at the earth, it is a potent image for the sense of exile which is present in so many of these films. This remix film strikes me as much more beautiful and powerful than the original, especially in its use of color and editing. The music, a spare landscape of gongs, is also better.
I’ve written about Tunisian artist Ismaîl Bahri’s beautiful “Resonances” here. It is a fine piece to include with this collection.
“Les Illuminés,” at 90 seconds, is a fascinating piece by Algerian artist Halida Boughriet who lives in Paris. She shot the video in a big metro station, from inside a burka, which covers her eyes as well as her entire face and body. Many people stare at her openly.
Danielle Arbid’s “The Smell of Sex” is 20 minutes of funny and frank conversation about sex. A group of young Lebanese women and men talk (in separate groups) about sexual tastes and mechanics in deliciously filthy language. (It is interesting that, for certain sexual terms, they use French or English words. I’m not sure if this is because there are no Arabic terms for these acts, or if they find the foreign words more sexy, or simply because Lebanese Arabic is usually sprinkled with French terms.) The film certainly serves to counteract Western stereotypes that Arabs are prudish; the discussions include group sex and male and female homosexuality. The screen is mostly black (except for the subtitles), and occasionally shows Super 8 soft-core erotic footage. Although the banter is very lightweight and speaks boastfully about pleasurable experiences, there is a humorous episode at the end of the film where one young man receives an irate call from his girlfriend during his interview, and we are reminded just how problematic human sexuality is.
“The Parade of Taos” is a beautifully made 16mm black and white short by Nazim Djemaï, which, with almost no dialogue, follows the story of an Algerian woman named Taos, played memorably by Amal Kateb, who periodically meets her lover at the zoo. It is not always a comfortable place for a lovers’ tryst. A woman in a burka stares at Taos’ Western dress and makeup. Some couples, gay and straight, resort to meeting in the bushes. In a haunting scene, Taos enters a deserted ruin, and a gang of boys suddenly appears to taunt and attack her. The film ends with her observation of a conversation in sign language between a deaf man and woman. Their easy intimacy seems connected to their obliviousness to the harsh words of others.
Like the first two volumes, Volume Three of “Resistance(s)” provides Western viewers with an opportunity to become acquainted with excellent films from artists they are probably unfamiliar with. It is not to be missed.