I’ve attended the premier of ‘A Bahraini Tale‘ last night at the Seef Mall cinema complex. It is the 3rd film by my friend Bassam Al-Thawadi whose film credits also include the
first ever Bahraini film Al-Hajiz (the Barrier) and after a very long hiatus, Al-Za’er (the Visitor).
This event signifies the first production by the newly established Bahrain Film Production Company headed by two of the Bahraini advertising world’s leaders: Akram Miknas (of Promoseven) and Khamis Al-Muqla (of Gulf Saatchi & Saatchi) and knowing those two are behind such a venture, it should succeed, although I must confess that I am confused as to how those two hugely competitive beings actually found it in themselves to form a company in which both would serve on the board of directors! How I wish I was a fly on that wall during one of their meetings… sort of reminds me of the sad demise of Falcon Cinefoto… but that’s just being pessimistic.
Getting back to the film itself; I did enjoy it actually. It’s a nice story, good enough acting, very good cinematography and lighting and I wholeheartedly recommend you go and watch it and buy the DVD if and when it is released.
There are a few things which bothered me about the film; however, and I hope that the guys will take the following as constructive criticism (Warning: Spoiler ahead! if you intend to watch the film, please do not read beyond this point):
There were far too many plots to follow the story coherently; I didn’t know what to concentrate on and what the writer (Fareed Ramadan) wanted to actually impart at times. The underpinnings of the movie is the ubiquitous Arab Nation’s struggle to find a leader to fall behind. The film concentrated on the Jamal Abdulnasser era of the late 60s, and more importantly as far as the movie was concerned is how the Bahraini community interacted with those events. The writer and director, I think, wanted to show the struggles of individual Bahrainis mirrored in the larger Arab world’s and how they – all – as far as the film is concerned, ultimately resulted in failure!
That time period also happen to be just before the independence of Bahrain from British rule, and was typified by various political and labour demonstrations, put all of that into a pot and you would be forgiven to have described Bahrain then as a powder keg. That was touched upon in the film, but the story failed to develop sufficiently to deserve the viewer’s empathy.
The second storyline touches about the interwoven nature of the Bahraini society at that time which had underpinnings of sectarianism, and also due to the Arab/Israeli conflicts, the mistrust and even the blame of the Bahraini Jews at Abdulnasser’s failure. However, again I just don’t get why this has so haphazardly been used. This, I think is a whole story by itself and having a Bahraini Jew struggling with a “do I stay or do I escape” question is just bizarre. The story would have been built and developed in a much more germane fashion had the writer and director concentrated on (or completely ignored) the Shi’i/Sunni split, which, as it happens, was treated too far into the film and without the good and deep treatments which this subject deserves. Both of these factors were distracting and unnecessary.
The other plot of course is family abuse. The father, ably played by Mubarak Khamis, was a low-wage labourer with 4 daughters, one son and two wives, one in Muharraq – where the film was based – and the other (divorced) in Riffa. The father can’t make ends meet so he pours his scorn and anger on his family and has no hesitation to slap and beat and kick his children and wife about.
The director and writer did a good job in making him look like an ogre, but unfortunately only developed his character in a single dimension: cruelty, ignorance, and sectarianism, I would have loved to see him smile or show at least minimal kindness in any situation as that would have paradoxically strengthened the tough and cruel character. However, he wasn’t even shown shedding a single tear nor show remorse even at his daughter’s funeral.
The wife was excellently played by Mariam Ziman; she portrayed the down-trodden, but ambitious wife who connects with and takes pride in Arab world’s issues, albeit in a very superficial and naive way. She also portrays how a wife in such a situation acts as a shield between the abusive father and their children, even providing succour to his children from another marriage, thus inculcating the stereotype of the “good mother” against all odds, but ultimately tastes disappointment not only in her own situation, but that of the Arab nation as well with the defeat of the ’67 war.
In between all the shouting and beatings, we were treated with the sadness that arranged marriages might bring, and the longing of forbidden love. In this case, it ultimately led to a suicide as a sacrifice to true love, which – unfortunately – was rather farcically portrayed: an unloved wife (the eldest daughter played by Fatima Abdulrahim) forced into marrying her first cousin whom she despises pours an unending stream of kerosene on her body from a single one liter bottle in front of an abusive and pleasantly smoking husband, strikes a match, looks directly into the husband’s eyes, drops the match and an inferno ensues while the husband continues to hold the unfinished cigarette in hand and continues to stare with gaping mouth at the human torch in front of him!
I have no idea where the person who put out the fire came from, but it wasn’t the husband!
There were also very weird things in the movie which had no connection with anything at all; what’s the story with that “crazy” guy walking around continuously saying “Allah, Al-watan, Gulf Air” (God, the Nation, Gulf Air – the local airline company)? I’m not sure if he was put there as comic relief, I found him annoying and again does not contribute anything to the storyline.
In conclusion about my opinion regarding the story itself, I would have liked the script to have developed the characters much more and concentrated on a fewer plots and would have loved to be presented with a twist, this would have incalculably added to the drama – even if it was based on a true story. That would have been much more enjoyable to me.
The film was too long – 96 minutes. It should have been at least 25% shorter, but that’s due to the (please forgive me Bassam!) crappy editing and the loose and lazy way it was done.
Technically, I loved the cinematography and lighting, both were superb which worked extremely hard at setting the theme, the atmosphere and mood of the shots. However, when it came to put these shots together there were far too many frames at their heads and the tails, which makes me think that the editor (sorry Osama!) was far too much in love with the material, rather than with getting his job done in making the film flow. That, I think and the really bad quality of the sound ruined the film for me more than anything else.
I would have happily put up with the script’s deficiencies, but having those jump-cuts, those weird sound jumps – full middle, to full left speakers or the opposite rather than making those too flow naturally with the lens movement, the obviously wrong levels of audio between and sometimes within the shots – were extremely irritating.
Why would anyone just hang for a few seconds at the start of a shot before some action happens? And why were we subjected to even unnecessary footage which did nothing to develop the story? Did we really need to see someone putting on his slippers? Taking off or putting on their thobes and the like? If those extraneous scenes were cut, the production company would have saved the price of 25% of the footage with all of its attendant costs too. Even more important, it would have made the film much more enjoyable.
But enough negativity. It was an excellent attempt at film making, and Bassam Al-Thawadi as well as the whole crew should be lauded for their efforts. It is, after all, only the third such film that the director undertakes, and I think probably the fourth or fifth film overall which was done by Bahraini talent in Bahrain, we still have a long time ahead of us to actually arrive at a space where our film industry would compete with the likes of Bolly- and Hollywood, or even Egypt or Syria. Directors like Bassam should be wholeheartedly embraced and given every chance to excel.
To put things into perspective as far as budgets are concerned, this film by world standards would be classified as “micro” as its budget was just one million dollars, but the effort overall was quite good.
Well done to all involved for this movie and I look forward to many more Bahraini productions in the very near future.
My rating? I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars.