Sunday, April 26, 2015

Beirut Confessional

Birds of September (2013) - Francis
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I can see Birds of September fitting nicely in the catalog of films Havard Sensory Ethnography Lab has put out. A van equipped with large glass panels for sides and back slowly drives around Beirut with interview subjects candidly talking to the unseen director, Sarah Francis. The subjects are usually in the back of the van, sitting on a chair while the background changes constantly as the van weaves around busy traffic, day through night. It has a similar effect of Manakamana or a Kiarostami film. But the interviewees stories are distinctly Lebanese and Beiruti. Downtown Beirut seems very cosmopolitan and secular even though ahan (call to prayer) is heard from time to time. It's also achingly beautiful in rain.

Francis records people from all works of life - unemployed man, nurse, yogi, middle aged business woman. The film has several different layers visually and aurally. Their stories are recorded separately and laid over the subjects as they quietly look around their surroundings. They are separated from their environment by glass walls, yet not. In intervals, a male narrator's philosophical musings (written by Francis) fill the gap. The city with such a violent history seem like just any other place - the subject's lamentations are about the same as our concerns and wishes. 'Loneliness in individualism' bit strikes a cord with me. One of the best films I've seen this year.

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