The Kite
review by Dan Lybarger, 16 January 2004

On paper, Randa Chahal-Sabbag's The Kite would seem a typical story of teens from opposite sides of the tracks who are doomed to fall madly in love. It's the kind of familiar setup that could seemingly occur in any area or time period.

What makes The Kite special is its setting along the Golan Heights region of the current Israeli-Lebanese border. In this environment, a Romeo and Juliet-style match is more than unlikely, and some of the film's strongest moments come from acknowledging that mere attraction won't necessarily drive the distant lovers into each other's arms.

Sabbag concentrates primarily on an adventurous 15-year-old girl named Lamia (Flavia Bechara). Her independent streak emerges early in the film when she chases after a kite that has fallen on the Israeli side of the border near her village. Her pursuit is both brave and foolhardy because she's dodging mines, crawling through barbed wire and provoking nervous Israeli soldiers who don't have any idea what to make of her seemingly fatal pursuit.

Lamia's days of playing hooky from school and goofing around with her brother Nabil are numbered because the village's elders have determined she should marry her cousin Samy. Her Druse community is split between the two sides of the border, and all of the potential suitors are on the Israeli side.

Marrying someone on the other side means that Lamia will have to move there permanently. Because of the armed checkpoint that the locals have to cross to get from one side to the other, moving back and forth is a difficult proposition even in calm times.

Watching over this arrangement is a bored 17-year-old Israeli reservist named Youssef (Maher Bsaibes). The locals don't have phones and can't casually stroll from one side to the other to chat, so the people on both sides pick up megaphones to yell messages back to each other. Because he, like them, is Druse, Youssef, perched in his watchtower, has the odious task of jotting down everything they say to each other.

The locals certainly notice Youssef, but his Israeli uniform immediately fills them with contempt. Even Lamia, who fancies the lad from afar, finds his involvement in the "enemy's" army shameful.

From here, Sabbag could have taken her story into tediously overplayed territory but thankfully doesn’t. The writer-director has described her film as a somewhat stylized presentation of the situation at the border. In The Kite, the conflict is presented a potentially volitile situation that winds up becoming, at times, absurdly comic.

Sabbag doesn’t deny the tragedies that have occurred in the region and can’t be accused of whitewashing them. For obvious reasons, she filmed The Kite in a more tranquil region that’s geographically similar to the Golan Heights.

Nonetheless, Sabbag concentrates on her characters’ surprising quirks than on any ideologies. When the women on Lamia’s side of the border disparage the scarf a woman on the other side has purchased. At first, they express disgust that she bought it on the Israeli side. But it later turns out that they are dismayed because she could have bought something snazzier in another Israeli city.

In addition, Samy, who would be an unbearable ogre in most European or American movies, is an earnestly likable lad who tries to make the disastrous marriage work. At times, a viewer almost loses sympathy for Lamia because she has been treating the undeserving Samy with contempt ever since she was forced to make a prenuptial videotape.

It can take a while to get oriented into The Kite because some of the cultural idiosyncrasies are little tough to figure out, and because Sabbag diverts the viewers attention for sideplots and dream sequences. This isn’t necessarily a flaw because in the world Sabbag has created, the animosities are so strong that it’s an adventure to merely fantasize about loving someone from the other side.

Nonetheless, you won’t need a tour guide to appreciate Sabbag’s humor or her affection for her characters. The Kite took home three awards at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and it’s the official Lebanese candidate for this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar. Sabbag’s uniquely Lebanese take on life and love in the middle of conflict has a refreshingly orignal appeal that crosses some formidable barriers.

Directed by:
Randa Chahal Sabag

Flavia Bechara
Maher Bsaibes
Rasma Asmar
Randa Asmar
Renée Dick
Ziad Rahbani

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.






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