Naziha Baassiri

Taxi Ballad

Watch the trailer of Daniel Joseph’s latest film titled Taxi Ballad. (Video via YouTube.com)

f you want to catch a glimpse into the everyday life of the Lebanese in general, and Beirutis in particular, then Daniel Joseph’s new film, Taxi Ballad, is for you.

Adapted from his first film, Blood Taxi, the 32-year-old director altered the original script involving vampires and murderers to create a dark comedy that viewers of all ages could identify with. “Art doesn’t have to be serious… and depressing. I wanted to [create something] most people can enjoy,” he told NOW Extra.

The portrait-style film revolves around Youssef (played by Talal Jurdi), a 36-year-old man who finds himself driving a taxi in Beirut as he waits for a US visa (or some other unspecified event) to come through.

Snippets of Youssef’s childhood as well as his past and present are shared with the audience in a non-linear narrative.  We see Youssef as a child in his village, coping with his father’s sudden departure, cheering on the village protector, Carlo, and obsessing about Ziko, the village football player. While the movie is not about Youssef per se, he is instrumental in introducing the concept of Beirut to the viewer.

“Beirut is my main character,” said Joseph. “This is a portrait film, i.e. it’s not a plot-oriented film. It presents Beirut through the eyes of a taxi driver. I used to take taxis [to different places] to draw inspiration, and all taxi drivers are different but they’re also the same somewhat.”

Several well-known Lebanese actors and actresses were cast in the movie, including the late Mahmoud Mabsout (aka Fehman.) Lebanese singer and composer Charbel Rouhana is featured in a scene where he’s seen playing one of his songs at the village square to celebrate one of Carlo’s “victories” against a hooligan who had entered the village.

Music also plays an important role in the film. Its significance is even noted by Youssef’s love interest, an American woman named Jordan (played by Karina Log) who tells the protagonist that “you can tell a lot of things about someone from the music they listen to.” 

In a very heartfelt way, the movie touches on trademark characteristics of Beirut: those all-too-common scenarios of getting caught with a traffic ticket after parking illegally, the “crazy” old lady who throws housewares off her balcony and men cat-calling beautiful women as they walk along the Corniche.

It also sheds light on the somewhat typical human interactions that often happen on the streets of the capital. For example, in one scene, Youssef obsessively calls and stalks his ex-girlfriend, who eventually marries and moves to Canada with her Lebanese husband. At one point, the protagonist demonstrates he can “play it cool” by getting into a club on the weekend without reservations. And then we experience with Youssef that familiar feeling that Beirut is just a small town after he and Jordan bump into her ex-boyfriend at the very bar they tricked the bouncer to get into.

While Joseph successfully pulls off a fascinating depiction of the best and worst one can experience in Beirut, the scenarios can at times be tiring for locals.

Some things just feel a little too stereotypical: the old lady who refuses to walk home after Youssef gets stuck in deadlock traffic, the guy who can’t remember where he parked his car after a wild night out, and Youssef’s friend, Anwar, who loses his job in Dubai during the economic crisis and, suffering debt, returns to Lebanon.

Although Joseph said that with Taxi Ballad he had “achieved 99 percent” of what he wanted, he also mentioned that the film was a commercial endeavor, “especially with three other partners funding the project, including Jurdi.” The absence of a straightforward plot undermined that goal. More focus on the development of Youssef’s character could have allowed the director to keep his artistic vision without having the movie suffer from seemingly sporadic scenes of one man’s life.

Regardless, Taxi Ballad is a joy to watch. Joseph does a fantastic job of introducing our beloved capital to those intrigued by its puzzling dichotomies. As Jordan says to Youssef, “Admit it! You are a conformist society. You call for progress [by day] and then piss on the wall at night.”
Taxi Ballad can be seen at Cinema City (City Mall), Dunes, Galaxy, Espace, Sodeco Empire, Stargate Zahle, City Complex Tripoli, Aresco Palace. For more information, please visit the film’s Facebook page.