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CAIRO 2021

Review: Fiasco

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- In his very personal, atypical coming-out dramedy, Lebanese filmmaker Nicolas Khoury explores fears and common family dynamics on his road to maturity

Review: Fiasco

The beginning of Fiasco, Nicolas Khoury’s first feature-length documentary, which has just gone home from the Cairo International Film Festival clutching the Salah Abu Seif Award – The Special Jury Award in the Horizons of Arab Cinema Competition, plus a Special Mention for Best Arab Film (see the news), is tricky for the viewer to grasp. A patchwork of old home movies interweaves with modern footage in which the director’s mother comments on the scenes we have just seen – they look “disjointed”, as she rightly observes. Then we see his sister Tamara leaving home for her honeymoon and to go off to live with her new husband, after which the movie hovers within the domestic bubble formed by the director and his mother.

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Although she is aware that Khoury is recording, many episodes look as if they were shot with a hidden camera, eavesdropping on private conversations that were too intimate to be officially heard or witnessed. Khoury admits that the camera has been part of his daily life since his teenage years, so his mother and sister got used to it, up to the point where it became almost “invisible”. Such a forced familiarity also makes the film difficult to digest initially, until one gets used to it, just as mother and son have to adjust to their state of exclusive togetherness.

At first glance, the mother seems grumpy and needy – an overbearing parent who hates spending time alone and holds her son accountable for this. She openly confesses that she got married in order to avoid living on her own and saw this step as a guaranteed way of saving herself from loneliness. However, Khoury’s father passed away early on, so her deepest fears came true. Her sincerely expressed vulnerability prompts sympathy and respect, while also actually making her look brave.

Now, her wish is to see her son married so that he can gain a stable social status, no matter if he is openly doubting his sexuality, after a cathartic romantic revelation in Amsterdam. And she barely notices the fact that while trying to prevent his life from turning into a fiasco and showing him the path to happiness, she misses out on enjoying their affectionate moments together, unexpectedly revealed in front of the camera. Happiness is not a long-term formula, as Fiasco suggests, but rather fleeting fragments of shared experiences that people often do not realise are happening.

The conflict, as described, could easily position the plot within the territory of a social or family critique; nonetheless, Khoury prefers to investigate and understand the causal relationships, instead of pointing a finger. Through an eccentric pastiche of teenage home movies, recently held conversations and a trip to a house in the country, where he reconnects spiritually with his dead Uncle Carlo, the director tries to dig into his family tree – more the emotional than the factual one – in order to analyse the roots of the loneliness that has been haunting all of the members of his family. And he eventually discovers that no one ever dared to unveil their true self: “If the film starts with archive scenes where my sister and I played characters when we were teenagers, it ends today with the reality where no one is playing a role, but revealing themselves to the other.” Such an extremely introspective approach spares Fiasco the activistic pathos of a typical coming-out film, thus leaving room for healthy self-deprecation and humorous reflections, which actually turns it into a heart-warming experience.

Fiasco was produced by Lebanon’s Sekak Films and co-produced by the Netherlands’ boondocs.

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