Review: Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous
- VENICE 2022: Wissam Charaf depicts the romantic idyll of two migrants trapped in Beirut in a minimalist tale exuding charm and truth, beneath a light-hearted exterior
"It’s like your heart is in a cage." With its bittersweet, minimalist style, akin to a social allegory verging on comedy, the romantic story of a passionate love between two destitute migrants exiled and trapped in Beirut forms the beating heart of Wissam Charaf’s Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous [+see also:
interview: Wissam Charaf
film profile], which was unveiled in the opening slot of the 79th Venice Film Festival’s Giornate degli Autori event. Composed of an Ethiopian economic migrant hired as a general help by an old Lebanese couple, and a homeless Syrian refugee who works as a door-to-door scrap merchant, this highly endearing sentimental pairing is undeniably the secret weapon of this second feature from a director who turned heads in Cannes’ ACID section in 2016 by way of Heaven Sent [+see also:
film profile] and who is gently and modestly ploughing his post-modern film furrow, calling to mind Aki Kaurismäki, Elia Suleiman and the Nasser brothers.
To watch over a retired colonel (Rifaat Tarabey) as if watching a pot on the stove, a retired colonial who is losing his mind, sometimes believing himself to be Nosferatu (in a nod to Murnau), to the point that he tries to strangle his employee in her tiny bedroom one night: this is the principal mission, between endless bouts of mopping, of pretty help Mehdia (Clara Couturet), under the maternalistic aegis of the lady of the house (Darina Al Joundi). But as soon as Ahmed’s (or Ziad Jallad’s) voice rings out in the street – “steel, copper, batteries!” - happiness, stolen kisses and secret rendez-vous abound for our young female lead. When it comes to the former, however, whose body regularly expels fragments of metal in memory of a bomb, daily life is far harsher in the xenophobic-toned atmosphere of the Lebanese capital, where Syrian War refugees are treated like second-class citizens (subject to curfews, denied hope of “normal” work and surviving in abandoned buildings heated by firepits or in out-of-town makeshift camps).
But consoling glimmers of love soon yield their place to shadow when Medhia is accused of unprofessional behaviour on account of Ahmed. Her passport is confiscated by the agency who organised her transfer to Lebanon (who also supply domestic staff from Sri Lanka, Bengal and Madagascar), she is locked up in her apartment by her boss and she is forced to ignore Ahmed. Pious Medhia is now a prisoner. But she escapes and reunites with her lover whose health is in decline ("your body is full of metal… It’s a wonder you’re not dead"). Their goal now is to leave Lebanon. But how?
A movie which mirrors the merciless reality of everyday life for migrants in Lebanon (where many, including the poorest among them, try their best to enslave others), Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous makes a point of not dramatizing situations which are already incredibly painful. The film’s intentionally minimalist tone and set design, and its occasionally incredible adventures (the screenplay coming courtesy of the director, alongside Hala Dabaji and Mariette Désert) lend charm and a fablesque air to a work which prioritises restrained simplicity and unpretentious freshness in a complicated quest for freedom.
(Translated from French)
Photogallery 31/08/2022: Venice 2022 - Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous
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