Whatever our misgivings about Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now?, to see TIFF’s 2011 audience award go to a previously unheralded Lebanese film made for a welcome change of pace. Labaki’s success has also given Cinematheque programmers the opportunity to spotlight her contemporaries, during this weekend’s regional retrospective Once Upon a Time, Lebanon: Visions of Postwar in New Lebanese Cinema. Running through Sunday at the Lightbox, the series offers a variety of vibrant features and shorts from a generation of filmmakers striving to confront their homeland’s tumultuous history.
Bold fusions of drama and non-fiction have been a hallmark of Lebanese cinema since the country’s civil war (1975–90), and TIFF’s retrospective presents two such works on Sunday, June 17. In the striking Yamo (4 p.m.), Rami Nihawi subjects his mother, Nawal, to a series of interrogations, hoping to learn more of her upbringing, and of his absent father. Through Nawal’s recollections of her activist past and her family’s disapproval at her interfaith marriage, Nihawi’s maternal portrait becomes a poetic microcosm for the political and sectarian divisions that continue to destabilize his country.
The story of two generations of ’70s radicals, Mohamed Soueid’s My Heart Beats Only for Her (6 p.m.) is an even more ambitious blend of fact, fiction and family history. Soueid follows Hassam, a fellow filmmaker and fellow former youth member of the Palestinian liberation movement. Hassam looks to follow in his father’s footsteps by venturing to Vietnam, where many Arab nationalists received guerilla training. Travelling back and forth through time, and venturing between Beirut, Hanoi and Dubai, Soueid contrasts today’s lapsed idealism with the era of Vietnamese-sponsored revolutionary verve.
Saturday’s line-up includes a selection of shorts (12:45 p.m.), highlighted by Ahmed Gossein’s excellent My Father Is Still a Communist, as well as two films we can recommend to those partial to more conventional narrative fare. Michel Kammoun’s debut, Falafel (2:45 p.m.), was well-received on the festival circuit in 2006, where it drew comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, while OK, Enough, Goodbye (5:15 p.m.) is the charming feature debut of directors Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia. It will be accompanied by the duo’s award-winning short Tripoli, Quiet.
The full programme for Once Upon a Time, Lebanon is at TIFF’s website.