A lost mother, a lost city and a man in search of company and affection
Ok, Enough, Goodbye (directed by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia) is a movie told through archetypes. We don’t know the name of the main character but we recognise this single, 40-year-old man, still living at home with his feisty elderly mother, through his actions. He doesn’t go out for lunch with his friends without first finding out what she has cooked for him at home. His clothes are meticulously ironed and laid out for him. The house is cleaned. Even before he goes to sleep at night, he calls out to her to make sure the front door is locked. His life would have continued uninterrupted like this until the grave except for one thing. One day his mother takes the bus to Beirut and is never seen again.
The filling of that void becomes the adventure of the film, one that the protagonist, played by Walid Al-Ayoubi, reluctantly embarks upon through various liaisons – with a prostitute, the badly behaved under ten neighbour’s son, his sexist Lebanese friend from the Gulf and finally a virtually silent Ethiopian maid. All of these characters too remain unnamed throughout the film and would have been just surface personalities if not for their lively individual monologues to camera that punctuate the action. They not only add additional information about onscreen relationships, they reveal who they are. In the case of the Ethiopian maid, her continual silence and fear in the house is unjustified until we learn about her pervious experiences as a servant in Lebanon and see that returning her to the agency, like some damaged consumer good, will only result in a brutal beating. Because the film’s protagonist is never allowed these insights, he grows from strength to strength as he grapples with situations beyond his control. By the end of the film he is almost likable.
Ok, Enough, Goodbye has another main character and it is Lebanon’s second port city of Tripoli. Periodically the travelogue, which started the film, crops up unexpectedly as scenes shift to different parts of the city – El Mina, the port area where the boats and anything else that is washed up from the sea to shore dies, or, in the south of the city, the permanent International Fair of Tripoli, an exhibition site consisting of 15 buildings – many of them never finished and rusting away – by the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. So in the film, these many layers of characterisation taking place, from the city to the people, build an intimate, sometimes suffocating life around the main nameless man, who feels trapped by Lebanon, his job running a modest patisserie, and now loneliness at home. However, by the end of the film, his resilience wins through.
The directors, Rania Attieh, originally from Tripoli, and Daniel Garcia, from South Texas, met in a script writing class. Both moved to New York, and formed a solid cinematic partnership making a series of short, award winning films. Almost Brooklyn (2008), supervised by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, won Best Short Fiction from the Brooklyn Arts Council; Tripoli, Quiet (2009), was awarded the Black Pearl Award for Best Middle East Short at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. OK, Enough, Goodbye (in Arabic Tayeb, Khalas, Yalla) is Attieh’s and Garcia’s first feature length film and in 2010 it took the Black Pearl Award for Best Narrative Film by a New Arab Director at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
With the Arab Spring, there has been a renewed interest in Arab cinema but not the kind Omar Kholeif, curator of the Arab Film Festival at FACT, in Liverpool, would like to see.
“I don’t think there is a growth in Arab film festivals (i.e. actual infrastructure or development),” he writes in an email, “But rather a lot of temporary programmes at big film festivals like Amsterdam, Berlin Film Festival, Sheffield Doc Fest, Venice, and as adjunct components to other cross arts festivals, some of which have been horrid. I think this has to do with satiating a public appetite and the belief that cinema as the mass medium par excellence (in artistic terms) will shed new light on these supposed conflicted areas…”
Sadly Arab cinema, despite enjoying unprecedented popularity at home – Egyptian cinema for example plays to large domestic audiences – has never reached the level of success that Iranian art house movies like those by Kiarostami, have enjoyed in Europe and the US. The reasons for this is logistics, according to Kholeif:
“Arab films never pick up foreign distribution, even if they are huge smash hits in the region. This also has to do with 1) Poor archival resources in the region 2) Litigation grey areas surrounding rights and 3) And clearly, the desire of art house cinema to only pick up cinema that mirrors it own, but in a different context or geography.”
Perhaps a new generation of filmmakers like Attieh and Garcia who are working to bring Arab stories to a wider audience fulfil Kholeif’s own vision for FACT’s Arab Film Festival with its focus “on local cultural production, its richness and texture and how we develop networks to share that.”
It is this approach that makes Ok, Enough, Goodbye satisfying and memorable. How do you get to know a people or a country? Let the characters and the city talk for themselves, and reveal their own dark, glistening secrets.
Malu Halasa, a writer and editor living in London, recently co-curatored “Culture in Defiance: Continuing Traditions of Satire, Art and the Struggle for Freedom in Syria” for the Prince Claus Fund Gallery in Amsterdam, until 23 November 2012.
The UK premiere of Okay Enough Goodbye is at FACT on Thursday the 12th of July at 6.30 pm accompanied by an introduction from Malu Halasa.
Tickets can be booked online, by calling 0871 902 5737 or in person at the Box Office.
The Arab Film Festival is a collaboration with the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival which includes a variety of talks, exhibitions, music and events and takes place between 6-15 July.