Danielle A. Krikorian
Arts and Culture Editor
“Everything is yours. Everything,” whispers an impassioned young man in the ears of his lover. The quiet, almost desperate revelation offers a sensual, secretive and sad atmosphere. The viewer becomes the voyeur of an eerie and brutal love story. “Listen” by Philippe Aractingi, which stars first time actor Hadi Bou Ayash, professional actresses Ruba Zarour and Yara Bou Nassar, reaffirms and strengthens the recent Lebanese cinematographic scene that has witnessed a short drought in meaningful movies. “Listen” portrays the love story of a young sound engineer named Joud (Bou Ayash), and his vivacious, middle-class girlfriend Rana (Zarour). Intriguing, singular, enigmatic, and bold, the movie will transport you to a multi-sensorial experience. Certainly, “Listen” feeds the eyes and the ears.
The plot seems simple and straightforward at first. The audience is introduced to the lovers, which face the scorn of Rana’s parents. Yet, as the movie progresses, it uncovers its hidden depths. Set in the present temporal Lebanese scene, Joud and Rana’s whirlwind romance is cut short by a tragic accident, which leaves Rana comatose. Brokenhearted and torn apart by Rana’s well-meaning but socially-conscious parents, the young man attempts to coax her back by recording the sounds which make up everyday life. Laughter, wind, waves, and birds color the slow-paced plot. As the minutes, hours and months tick by; their sounds only serve to illustrate the strengthening desperation and love of Joud for his girlfriend.
In this regard, Hadi Bou Ayash delivers his first acting job with a candid and mellow performance, which is both his strongest suite and his greatest disadvantage. Indeed, whereas Bou Ayash’s brooding brings out the tragedy of powerlessness and rejection at times, it also creates sudden awkward moments where the slowness of the plot and the weakness of the actor’s delivery are stalling.
Rana’s portrayal by Ruba Zarour is convincing and vibrant. However, the character’s liveliness sometimes seems forced. The laughter too sharp, the smile too stony, and the flightiness too calculated.
In contrast, Yara Bou Nassar, who plays Rana’s somber sister, embodies the role of the overshadowed sibling. Nassar highlights the heartache of family loss and the jealousy fueled by sibling rivalry. The end of the movie was extremely theatrical and might not appeal to all, with several “shock” factors emerging in less than a minute, both satisfying and dissatisfying. It unfortunately took a turn towards a rushed Greek tragedy.
The soap-opera-like calamity, quieter themes and metaphors appear in “Listen,” illustrating the contradicting contemporary nuances in Lebanon and in Beirut.
Women’s rights are showcased with brief images of revolts, and through a scene where old women discuss their preferences in men. The touchy subject of purity and sexuality are present, with tasteful but graphic sex scenes that feature the Lebanese female characters and celebrate their bodies. References on the radio are made about the political corruption and a gay television host represents Lebanese homosexuality. Religious division is also portrayed with brief and subtle references in dialogues, which brings out the cultural diversity. Colonialism, globalization, and Orientalism are also part of the plot.
Perhaps, we might wonder why movies and literature from the “developing” world often encompass an array of different themes, whereas American or European movies rarely portray the scope or introduce the audience to their broader culture. In a sense, they are an open buffet, or an “all in one.” A love story in Lebanon cannot just be a love story, and a coma cannot just be a coma, as seen in American movies. Is it impossible for Lebanese citizens to simply fall in love? Do we need to justify the presence of Lebanese cinematography, or are these themes simply illustrated to promote the movie from “tragic love story” to “complex love story with political messages?”
The greater question is why? All these themes are extremely relevant. They are so relevant that in fact, each deserves to have hour-long movies solely dedicated to them. Of course, the argument may be that complexity and politics are part of Lebanon’s everyday life. They are indeed, but one must also understand that in the 21st century, all is political. It is how we treat politics that is relevant. Did “Listen” need them all? Perhaps not, and despite this, Aractingi still treated them relatively well with lovely metaphors and interrelated plotlines. Next time though, it would be even grander if the tragic love story is ditched and the themes on women’s rights, gay rights and corruption can be the full-frontal shining stars and not soft-spoken symbols.
“Listen” by Philippe Aractingi is superbly filmed and portrays a true image of the different sceneries in Lebanon, from the beautiful forests, to the lively city, to the sidewalk cafes of Monot, to the post-war architecture, and to the child beggars on the streets. The language used was the spoken Lebanese-dialect Arabic, and the dialogue was deep and rich due to the flowery and poetic quality of the language. It was nice seeing accurate portrayals of home with its beauty and tragedy, and void of bombs and over-the-top caricatures of ghettos and terrorists barking unintelligible phrases in-made-up-Arabic.
It all comes down to listening; to listen to our loved one’s needs, to listen to different cultures, and to listen to the Lebanese people etc. It is also up to you to listen.
As we say, Chapeau bas to Aractingi and “Listen”’s crew.