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A comedy-drama pokes fun at xenophobia

Tolerance wins in Lebanon

A comedy-drama pokes fun at xenophobia in the Middle East

A comedy-drama pokes fun at xenophobia in the Middle East

June/July 2017

Mother-in-law jokes
Pointing out that Lebanon was plagued by power cuts, traffic and unemployment before the arrival of 1.5m Syrians has done little to dissuade many Lebanese that the newcomers are to blame for their country’s woes. “Mahbas” (“Solitaire”, above), a comedy-drama about a young Lebanese woman engaged to a Syrian, gently pulls apart the prejudices that bedevil the country. The bride-to-be’s mother is unashamedly xenophobic: she turns off the radio when it plays Syrian songs and spits out pickles when told they were made by refugees. But her hatred is rooted in the death of her brother, killed during Syria’s 29-year occupation of Lebanon. That a film poking fun at its audience has done so well is a remarkable victory for the tolerance it espouses. It couldn’t come at a better time.

Stranger than fiction
Recent developments in Slovakia testify to art’s occasional ability to force politicians to change their minds. “Unos” (“Kidnapping”), directed by Mariana Cengel Solcanska, is the chilly tale of a crime that became emblematic of the early years of Slovak independence under the authoritarian leadership of Vladimir Meciar. The abduction in 1995 of his political rival’s son went unpunished, thanks to the executive pardons that Meciar granted while temporarily serving as president. In April this year, after the most successful opening ever for a Slovak film, lawmakers caved in to overwhelming public pressure and repealed the amnesties – a motion that had failed in parliament seven times. This film might finally help put the perpetrators behind bars.

Still watching you
“Big Brother Naija”, Nigeria’s edition of the global reality show in which contestants are shut in a house and filmed 24/7, captivated Africa’s most populous country this spring when it came back on the box for the first time since 2006. Amid the usual intrigue and backstabbing, the biggest controversy came when a male contestant was evicted for groping a female counterpart as she slept. Producers brought in a counsellor to discuss consent with the remaining contestants while a Twitter-storm raged outside. Though many expressed outrage, some asserted that the woman should have expected wandering hands when she got into her own bed. Others worried that the assailant’s life had been ruined. Needless to say, everyone kept watching.

The timewarp again
Han Han – author, rally driver, actor, singer and restaurateur – was once anointed the voice of China’s youth. His caustic social commentary has attracted 600m visits to his blog (and the occasional slap-down from the censors). No wonder, then, that having turned his hand to directing, his films are instant hits. His latest release, “Cheng Feng Po Lang” (“Duckweed”) grossed over 1bn yuan ($145m) in its first month. A young racing driver at odds with his father travels back in time to 1998 in a knowing homage to “Back to the Future”, an American cult classic, nostalgic for a time that, like duckweed, has been swept away on the waves of China’s rapid change.

Fight like a girl
The film industry in Cambodia has never quite managed to regain its verve since the trauma of the civil war and the Khmer Rouge – until now. In a departure from the usual fare of dismal low-budget horror flicks, the kingdom’s cinemas are buzzing thanks to “Ka Pea Oukrit Chuon” (“Jailbreak”), a slickly shot action thriller about police and gangs fighting it out in a prison riot. Starring regional martial-arts stars, the film is a radical departure for Cambodia. But the biggest draw seems to be its cast of hard-as-nails women playing vicious gangsters and heroic police officers. In a country not famed for gender equality, Cambodia seems hungry for feminism.

Fast and furious
There are few things as popular in Australia as sport, but usually the games that top the television rankings do not involve girls. So both the Australian Football League (AFL) and the TV networks were astonished when almost a million fans tuned in to watch the opening match of the inaugural professional women’s competition in February. “Aussie rules” football has a fanatical fanbase, but hardline critics still question whether women are up to the physical demands of the notoriously hard and fast game. The best women players are paid on average a tenth of what the men receive. Yet the eight-week league was a well-earned hit. The AFL hopes the money will follow. 

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