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Does Mount Lebanon Have a Clear Presence in Local Arts?
Posted on Mar 24, 2021 |
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The representation of Mount Lebanon, as a geography, social settings, educational behavior and cultural characteristics, in the Lebanese artistic production, at least in cinema and television, is not easy. In this context, defining the concept of "Mount Lebanon" is difficult. Considering it a countryside, with all its customs, concepts, paths and relationships, facilitates a review that seeks to show the presence of an integrated entity in works that emanate from the "rural locality", tell its stories, reveal its conditions, and show its features.
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Does Mount Lebanon Have a Clear Presence in Local Arts?
©Adra Kandil

The representation of Mount Lebanon, as a geography, social settings, educational behavior and cultural characteristics, in the Lebanese artistic production, at least in cinema and television, is not easy. In this context, defining the concept of "Mount Lebanon" is difficult. Considering it a countryside, with all its customs, concepts, paths and relationships, facilitates a review that seeks to show the presence of an integrated entity in works that emanate from the "rural locality", tell its stories, reveal its conditions, and show its features.

The Rahbani Brothers, Assi and Mansour, have a key role in promoting, theatrically and lyrically, an ideal concept of a country and a life. Several of their plays aim to establish a reality they create and strive to confirm, work after work, in theater, songs, and acting scenes. Some history is present, but the rural environment (an unreal picture of a country, people, livelihood and gathering) is present, in one way or another, as a model of the victory of certain values over others: For example, Rome's full might collapses before the attachment of Petra to the right to living and life ("Petra", 1977). This is some kind of additional confirmation of the victory of good over all injustice and evil despite the awful tyranny of injustice and evil, for good is above and more important than everything else, and will not fall with a knockout, no matter how brutal the tyranny of its owner may be.

The Rahbani Brothers’ depiction of the country is linked to an idealism that makes the country beautiful, and life in it modest, where everyone loves and respects everyone, and those who disagree with all of this -albeit for a short time- are fought and defeated in front of the kindness, blissfulness, tolerance and colors that decorate the daily lives of a peaceful and calm people, in a geographical environment that tends to the countryside, geographically, culturally and behaviorally, most of the time. Sometimes the city becomes a decor, but the environment remains rural, spontaneous, and innocent, and reaps all the victories.

In the three films of the 1960s, “Bayya3 el Khawatem” (The Rings Salesman) (1965) by Youssef Chahine, and “Seferberlik” (The Mobilization) (1967) and "Bint Al Hares" (The Guard’s Daughter) (1968) by Henry Barakat, there is a deep tendency towards a beauty that is impossible to find and experience in daily life. An imagination mightier than facts, if it doesn't wish to render them invisible. And evil, entering a peaceful environment, is part of the nature of things, but the solidarity of the good people against it constitutes a victory for them, and for the good they want as rules of life and relations. This refers to a rural environment, perhaps typical of "Mount Lebanon", the most important pillar of the “State of Greater Lebanon" (1920).

While “Bayya3 el Khawatem” and “Bint Al Hares” are dramatically entrenched in a purely rural environment (or suggest such an entrenchment), the mountain in “Seferberlik” faces the sea, and the sea is a way of salvation or a breather from the occupation pressure. The countryside is present in the pores of the script and the behavior of the characters and the features of living, although this remains difficult to determine, as is the case in “Ila Ayn” (Towards the Unknown) (1957), the first feature film by George Nasser, based on a story that Lebanese towns, villages and cities have known for a long time: migration for a better life. Nevertheless, the film - presented at the official competition of the tenth edition (2 to 17 May 1957) of the Cannes Film Festival - calls for a human, moral and life-long attachment to the countryside/mother country, and not to drift into dreams that turn into nightmares when migration is achieved.

The most critical response to the Rahbani Brothers, and to the myths that were made in their plays and films about a country, countryside, heritage and beauty which all do not exist in reality, is given by Ziad Rahbani, the son of Assi and Fairouz, in his fifth play, "Shi Fashel" (What a Failure) (1983), using sarcasm in dismantling the ideal world of the two brothers, and re-asking questions of identity, heritage and belonging, the meaning of the country, and the relationships of its people with its history and theirs. A Sarcasm that culminates the cultural confrontation between the son, his father and his uncle, and reaffirms the "realism" of Ziad in the face of the "idealism" of the first generation of the Rahbani family.

And while George Nasser chooses migration and the relationship with the Lebanese countryside (a village in Mount Lebanon), in his first few films, the Lebanese cinematic scene at the time (between late 1920s and early 1960s in particular) is incomplete in terms of productions which existence (even though abundant) allows, in one way or another, reading the local production and its relation to local geography. Most of these films do not identify a clear location, geographically or through characters, whose names cannot refer to an environment, religion, confession or social class. In this sense, Lebanese cinema will rarely come out from the public settings, except before the various cultural, artistic, aesthetic, dramatic and moral upheaval of Lebanese filmmakers in the very few years preceding the outbreak of the civil war (1975-1990), and their involvement in it and its details, from Beirut to the South, from Lebanese affairs to the conditions of the Palestinian camps and mainly Palestinians.

Later, films – the vast majority of which are documentaries – will be made in the context of cinematic research on environmental conditions that can be attributed to the geography of Mount Lebanon. A few examples reflect some form of professionalism, and the delving into the horrors of a country, its life, and the conditions and concerns of people, especially during that civil war, which suddenly stopped (militarily) without actually ending. Simon Al Habre in "The One Man Village" (2008) and Reine Mitri in “In this Land Lay Graves of Mine” (2014): The first goes to his village in the Upper Metn (Mount Lebanon) to meet his uncle, the only returnee to the village after the displacement of its inhabitants in the mid-1980s (the mountain war between the region's Druze and Christians); The second narrates chapters (according to documents and testimonies) of the history of demographic change, which took place during the same war, in many places, most notably in Mount Lebanon as well.

Compared to the Rahbani Brothers' involvement in a work that belongs to some Lebanese countryside, Abou Melhem confirms - in a television work that begins broadcasting in the late 1960s entitled "Abou Melhem", before it becomes “Yes3ed Masakom” (Good Evening) - the authenticity of the countryside and its human importance and the power of tolerance, forgiveness, kindness and innocent ingenuity in the face of evil, the evil being non cruel, non-violent and not very harmful; The indirect response to its geography would be a work by Mohamed Shamel entitled “El Denya Heik” (That’s the World), which takes place in a Beirut neighborhood, the predominant dialect (especially the Mukhtar’s whose role is performed by Shamel himself) being clear Beiruti, knowing that Abou Melhem dialect (who pronounces the ‘Qaf’ like the Druze of Mount Lebanon) which states that the environment belongs to the Lebanese countryside more than to a specific community or confession. This is without abandoning the attributes of "Abou Melhem" and “Yes3ed Masakom”, as Shamel inserts them in the city environment, which Salah Tizani (Abu Salim) will have the merit to establish on the Lebanese television, him who comes to Beirut from the capital of North Lebanon, Tripoli.

The precedent in such a short article would be nothing more than observations, which should be discussed further, especially in relation to Mount Lebanon. Observations intended to present an incomplete picture of a larger and more comprehensive Lebanese artistic and literary work that has several links to local environments shaping the fragile Lebanese entity.

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Mar 2021
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