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Nathalie Rosa Bucher

We're all Ghadi

A lovely new Lebanese film that is sure to delight

A small, quaint Lebanese coastal town and its old souk are the backdrop for Amin Dora’s first feature movie, Ghadi. This is a morality play cum comedy, quintessentially Lebanese yet universal. “Like any director, of course I’ve been wishing to direct a full-length feature film, but I didn’t expect the project to take off so fast,” Dora reveals.

 

It was written by Georges Khabbaz who also plays Ghadi’s father, Leba. As a young boy, Leba is bullied and made fun of for stuttering. He retreats into himself, and retaliates through writing stories in which his neighbors star. From the window of his room he sees and hears everything going on in the streets below and households nearby – often more than he should. Generally speaking, everyone has a handicap of some sort, a fair share of (unfulfilled) desires, secrets and superstitions. 

 

The one person who accepts Leba as he is, is his childhood sweetheart (Lara Matar), whom he goes on to marry.  By this time Leba is a music teacher at his old school, following in the footsteps of his former teacher and mentor Fawzi (played by the great Antoine Moultaka). “I wrote this part with Moultaka in mind,” Khabbaz reveals.

 

As soon as Leba has brought his bride home, the pressure is on to procreate. When Leba’s wife is pregnant with their third child, a boy (Ghadi) who will be born with Downs Syndrome, Leba drives to Beirut to ask Fawzi's advice. “Sir, normal people struggle in life nowadays, how about a handicapped person?” Leba probes. Fawzi tells Leba of Mozart, who was born with a weak heart and kidney problems and died aged 34, and asks: what if Mozart had not been born? 

 

Leba’s neighbors, who are small town people who think themselves beyond reproach, include a sex worker, a corrupt butcher, a scheming hairdresser, a very smooth counselor.  They ask Leba to send Ghadi away, but Leba shows unconditional love for his children, and refuses – “he was born like this. If we don’t accept him, how can we accept the other differences in life?” This refusal leads to a series of events that snowball and leave little as it was.

 

In the end, Leba comes up with a most improbable story and with the help of his wife, two daughters and a few other collaborators who stand out for their fierce loyalty and for themselves being ‘different’ (one is mentally ill, another gay, a third one half Lebanese, half African), ends up teaching his neighbors a lesson in tolerance.

 

Music plays an important role in Leba’s life and while the neighbor Abou Issam (Antoine Al-Hajal) consistently disapproves of his piano playing, it gives Leba comfort and helps him keep his family united, calming Ghadi. Responsible for the original music, composer Nadim Mishlawi was the perfect choice to translate the subtleties of Leba’s thoughts and feelings. 

 

Ghadi stands out for a consistency that other Lebanese feature films have lacked, clearly helped by the use of a highly professional and motivated crew, as well as experienced, well cast actors – there’s even cinema critic Emile Chahine in a cameo role.

 

Much credit is also due to producer Gabriel Chamoun, of The Talkies.  Although SGBL (Société Générale de Banque au Liban) came on board as partners for the film and Ghadi received a grant from the Doha Film Institute, it was ultimately due to Chamoun’s decision that The Talkies would provide the bulk of the $1.5 million budget, that the film was made.  The Talkies is committed to Lebanese feature film production, recently having established a content creation department, which will produce other feature films, web series and trans-media projects. 

 

While Khabbaz points out that Lebanon has yet to establish a film industry as such, achievements made by individuals are promising. Dora adds that hope is in the air: “It is always a good sign to see new movies coming out; it means more producers are having faith in developing and producing a much needed film industry in Lebanon.” 

 

Ghadi also stands out for having engaged with its audience while still in production by running a comprehensive social media campaign as the film was being shot, consistently feeding various platforms with images and information on shoots or the crew, effectively creating a hype one would hope will translate into box office figures.

 

The film was shot in the summer of 2012, in Batroun, and Dora, along with cinematographer Karim Ghorayeb, made the most of the location. Dora has previously won awards for his animation GreyScale and the flashmob commercials for Beirut Duty Free, and an International Digital Emmy Award for directing the web-based series Shankaboot

 

But Dora stresses the difficulty of producing a movie in Lebanon: “It was challenging to create a homogeneous world with solid and credible characters…The carefully chosen cast was a big help in order to solve some of the difficulties. I was supported by all the great actors, such as Antoine Moultaka, Mona Tayeh and Camille Salameh.” 

 

He continues: “Emmanuel Khairallah who played Ghadi was a great choice. His talent, positive attitude and cheerfulness overcame his obstacle of having Downs syndrome and any limitation that he might have had when it comes to taking acting directions. Soon enough I started treating him like any other main actor.” 

Nathalie Harb and Rana About, responsible for production design and costume design respectively, did a sterling job in creating the small town setting that evoked that prevailing Lebanese feeling of nostalgia. 

 

The film story spans across 30 years where nothing really changes and this inevitably infused the aesthetic of the film with nostalgia,” Harb, in charge of production design, explained. “I did, however, want to avoid a decorative retro feel. My concern was mainly to have a production design that would accompany the characters subtly, pierce through their apparent flatness with details, textures, patterns and objects specific to each one of them. I was also very inspired by Batroun, I am particularly sensitive to the aesthetics of coastal Lebanese villages where colors, surfaces and even people seem drenched by the sun and sea.”  

 

And while Khabbaz’s script could have been slightly tightened, it is due to this foundation that this delightful movie was provided with colorful characters, many a humorous reflection or punch line, as well as food for thought. “My aim was to entertain audiences by offering them a morality play or a dark comedy, underlining social flaws with the aim of correcting them,” Khabbaz explains. “Each one of us has a role to play, we exist because we have a role to play or a mission to fulfill in this life.” 

 

In subtle ways, with great humor and humanity, Ghadi touches on many subjects of universal relevance - faith, tolerance, discrimination, love, domestic violence, fatherhood, sexual orientation, parenting, friendship, hope and broken dreams, honesty and corruption, and others.

 

 

'Ghadi' is currently on at the Metropolis cinema, to find out screening times you can visit their website here.

Leba riding home with his bride Lara. (Image courtesy of The Talkies)

“My aim was to entertain audiences by offering them a morality play or a dark comedy, underlining social flaws with the aim of correcting them,” Khabbaz explains.