‘A Bahraini Tale’

'A Bahraini Tale' film posterI’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.


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  3. Yusif Foolad

    I don’t know why I was thinking of the “m&m” chocolates AD watching Bassam’s “A Bahraini Tale”. May be because the AD states something like “ It melts in your mouth not in your hand” or something closer. Any way back to the movie…..I quite agree with you there were a lot could be done while it was at the editing stage or even properly at the story board. There were “Tales” not a “Tale” of miserable characters leading us to a miserable ending simply because did not run off there destinies, so as the audiences in the right time. Bassam could done much better if he just tried to let the plot of his story “melted “ enough and proficiently before sending it to the screen causing all that tears but no fears.

    Yousif Foolad

    1. Ebrahim Assal

      I appreciated your way of Criticism My colleague Mr Yousif and I respect it quite well although the Narration of Bahrain tale was no successful .Even there was a big gap between What you criticise and what was offered .It was not really a tale any way or Tales as Mr Yousif says . I hope in future there would be some kind of satisfaction and contempt to be a piece of literary work that deserve watching and retelling

  4. can we talk now

    I love your review.
    I would have expected nothing less from a bahraini film, keeping in mind the dramas made every ramadan.

    so there is political instability and struggle, bygamy, an arranged marriage, sectarian rift, poverty, wife abuse, child abuse, divorce, suicide, anti-semiticm, arson, need i go on?? WHAT? no alcoholism? no insanity!!!!!!!!!!!! no prostitution?!!!!!!!!!!!!
    no extra-terrestrials?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bollywood without the songs, the dances and the kisses!

    our sound and editing usually could do with a little less sound and a little more editing. that’s the norm.

    tell me something, did the camera zoom in on the zits on the cast’s faces? and did they turn towards the camera when they spoke their lines?

    ever noticed how our films/series always present a laundry list of social problems but don’t suggest any solutions? if they slowed down the pace a bit, they could give each tale of woe its due, and not be too exhausted afterwards to produce another piece of work.

    sorry to be such a b***h , i havn’t seen the film, but i am in a ranty mood because I have a deadline and i’m running out of time!

    oh and the gulf air thing? Mahmood!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    product placement anyone???????????


  5. ws

    Mahmood, I really liked your review!

    I wish I could say the same to the actual movie. It just kills me more to see such melancholic and depressing movies to be the product that we Bahraini people release out there.. I stopped watching Bahraini series a very long time ago (I think the last time I watched one was 8 or 9 years ago!) becasue the level of tragedy is just too high! The beating and the suicide stuff, the drugs, it’s like ask any GCC person and they would say ‘yeah that Bahraini production one?’ and you get this type of response year after year!

    Dont ger me wrong, I like dramas and some tragedies too, but there’s also balance to it in a movie script, keep a good level of mystery, some human emotion, some interesting tricks or turns in the storyline when you think things can be a bit better and you watch a bit more (this reminds me when watching Dr. Zhivago recently that, considering it was a tragic story, I really loved how they play with someone’s emotions and feeling that there is hope after some disaster or major problem occurring, that love triumphs above all things idea and so forth)..

    The acting in this Bahraini movie was great, speech was good, but the structure of the story just gave the person a super condensed negative feeling after another. psychologically I think some people might have negative emotional after-effects after watching this movie which would last a few days!

    I always wanted to say this to the movies and recording culture here in Bahrain, stop beating into a dead tree!! try something new for a change, talk about stuff like the following:

    – triumph of a small town who had a bad mayor and when election comes they get to vote the best and add a bit of family issues and concentrate on a specific main character within that family..

    – Talk about the old traditions of living with ‘traditional’ family (who stopped letting you wear whatever good clothes you liked, stopped letting listen to whatever songs or stuff you like to hear, basically a family which is too strict) and letting them move from that ‘strict’ life to a more liberal one, by throwing at that family a very tough situation in which they have to think or do ‘liberal’ things to leave this ‘desparate’ situation they’re in to a much better living. For example, a woman who likes to work but her parents dont like her to work with male people around her, but then she goes and works and gets a big training program in the UK gets high marks, people recongize her, and when a new big gets established, she gets picked as the new director for the company.. stuff like that for example

    .. there’s just way more stories where you can come out of the movie and feel ‘that was a real good movie’ and you can actually relate it to either yourself or to someone in your group of friends or society.. that’s good film-making!!

  6. sillybahrainigirl

    Thanks for telling me what I had missed. I was repeating some of your points to Bassam over and over again in the pre-production and production stages. Please send him a link with your article or better print it out and push it under his nose if and when you see him next .. perhaps Wednesday .. at the Cinema Club?

  7. Post

    I think he probably already read it. I told him I hope that he still considers me a friend after reading the review! If he hasn’t then I’m sure others will tell him about it.

    Good job with the translation Amira!

  8. Ali

    Of course I’ll have to see it first to make a final judgment. But it sounds to me, from your review, that they got the stoy a little muddled. Sometimes too much plot (and/or sub-plots) defeat the object.

    I think that that time period in Bahrain is probably the most interesting and infleuncial in terms of the history of the country, but it was never protrayed on the big screen… did you find that they got the era right? was it authentic in that sense?

    I tried the link to the website but it seems broken.

  9. Post

    The site was working last night, but not at the moment.

    As to the authenticity of the period, I think the sets were a bit exagerated, plus there are a few booboos I noticed:

    (1) there was no conicorpus trees at that time (shown in various shots, most apparent at the abattoir) and

    (2) the very end shot, driving into the distance, the buildings at the end of the path looked distinctly 2000-ish! That same shot was prematurely cut within the movie as well when the boys were at the beach, and editing/sfx screwup maybe, but a screwup nonetheless.

    (3) the Dinar notes were modern, I don’t think the prop guy could find the replacement, so the handing out of notes was quite – well, trying to get hidden, but no cookie. Those shots should most definitely not go close-up on the subject’s hands!

    (4) I’m sure that there were 555 cigies then, but I do remember distinctly that Craven ‘A’ where the most popular. I know, I used to go and buy dad a pack every day or so (abu gatu aswad ;))

    Have I missed anything? Maybe, but I was trying to find my way around the plots… so I didn’t pay that much attention to the props 😉

  10. Critic

    I just hope in the near future that the old generation of film-makers and TV Producers in Bahrain would slowly start to give way to the younger generation instead of controlling all ascpects of filming from top to finish. There’s so much new talent out there, from directing to script writing, to acting, to actual filming, to editing and even music composition.

    I hope Bahrain TV would at least start to listen and give way to young Bahrainies for next Ramadan’s programming. Give the new guys a chance at least!

    Speaking off, way does Bahrain TV go with the same script writers and producers for its serials every single year even after all the heavy negative reviews that they recieve from the general public? Which has slowly become a tradition in Bahrain.

  11. bahraini4eva

    Well, given No financial support for such projects by our esteemed gov’t who should be the first to step-up and spend on it, I think Bassam continues to do a superb job. Fact of the matter is that he’s doing this as a means to encourage other arab, and in particular gulf nationals, to venture into the movie producing field. Bassam’s love for cinematography is clearly evident by his whole-hearted dediction and constant hard-work in a field that we all know makes little, if any, revenue. So, instead of only criticizing producers/directors like Mr.AlThawwadi (which is fine if it’s constructive criticism like Mahmood’s), I think it’s about time we start thanking and applauding producers/directors like him for opening up a new art avenue in the gulf for future generations to follow.

    can we talk now: given your comment, i think your nick should change to “shut the hell up now!”
    please do us all a favor and watch the movie first before criticizing, keeping in mind all the difficulties/hardships Mr.AlThawwadi had to go through before producing this movie! at least talk to the guy before ranting (which you admitted to), because it’s just a waste of everyone’s time!

    peace all!

  12. can we talk now

    b4e… temper temper…

    i did say i didn’t see the movie so my rant should be taken as that. a rant.

    as i said before, my comments are based on the ramadan dramas that are thrown at us every year and every thing i said is true about them.

    as for a bahraini putting in the energy and the time and the effort to produce a movie, it is definitely a feat to be applauded and nobody expects it to be on par with western films or even feature films. it takes time, experience and access to great technology to become Steven Spielberg.

    it doesn’t have to be the government funding film production, the private sector should consider investing into film and try and MAKE it profitable.

    as for my comments, i don’t know who makes the ramadan shows but my comments still stand. they suck!

    as for wasting your time, please don’t.

    after you have calmed down, think about the stuff on our telly and you might even bring yourself to agree with some of what i said.

    and thank you for your useful comments

  13. Critic

    On what basis does Bahrain TV choose their Executive Producers and scripts for their Ramadan Dramas? Does anybody know?

  14. Pardon the Interpretation

    First of all thanks Mahmood for the detailed review you had posted! I also agree with most of what “can we talk now” and “Critic” have said.

    If we don’t become more open and able to criticize our one and only TV station soon we will find ourselves competing in popularity with the likes of “Sudan TV” and “Yemen TV” (with all do respects to them).

    I think ever-since Bahrain TV decided to privatize the production of their television serials during Ramadan many have been very critical of such serials which seem to revolve around the same issues but with different twists. To me nearly all gulf dramas are copy-cats of each other.

    But coming to Bahrain one does question Bahrain TV’s decision to go with the same executive producers each year. Some of those ‘producers’ rely heavily on Bahrain TV’s equipment to execute their projects, including the usage of Bahrain TV’s cameras! Which makes you wonder, what’s the point of giving so much money to an executive producer to produce a television drama for you if that producer doesn’t even own his/her equipment let alone his/her own camera!?

    How is the script chosen? Is there a panel formed to choose the best scripts? On what basis are those producers chosen? (like Critic mentioned above) What have those producers produced prior to being assigned by Bahrain TV on a certain project?

    There are a number of other companies in Bahrain that own their own equipment and the quality of their production is surprisingly high (not naming any to avoid advertising), has Bahrain TV ever tried approaching them? Why does the viewer suffer each year from the poor quality of the shows produced? Why isn’t anyone held accountable?

    So many questions asked by the common person left sadly unanswered.


  15. Lord of the Pies

    Honestly Im also starting to predict a gap that is quickly developing between the old school of Bahraini film makers vs. the new school of Bahraini film makers… The newer generations are usually not funded in anyway and there’s no interest what-so-ever in bringing them into the spotlight… In other words they are simply ignored!!!

    But you just wait and see those kids develop; soon I believe we’ll start to notice all the new names in directing, cinematography, editing, scriptwriting, sound and music coming out…

    I reckon that things can only get better :yes:

  16. can we talk now

    i have a few questions. maybe someone has some answers.

    1. why is it that they only make drama serials for ramadan and then repeat them. people watch TV all year round. surely there is a market for arabic shows outside ramadan.

    2. we are in the fortunate position of not being pioneers. that means that we can learn from other countries and copy their successful ideas which suit our culture. it is so much easier than having to be completely original and learn by trial and error. and yet, even when we sopy, we don’t do it right. an example is the candid camera type shows. (and I don’t mean the Jamie Kennedy experiment and other extreme ones which i personally think are not that good) the western format will play a short trick on someone, show the best bits and then let them know and show the reaction, and finish. it is quick and funny and works. our version antagonizes people, drives them to violence and sometimes doesn’t even show the reaction at the end.

    3. why is is that our local interpretation of comedy is always slapstick and making fun of people who are different? surely there must be some genuinely funny people out there who make people laugh without cheap props?

    4. reality TV is still popular in many countries. and i don’t mean big brother. when a certain female went around bahrain showcasing traditional jobs and interviewing their families, it was very interesting. until she started talking to the khabbaz’s son abd kept asking him if the other children at school made fun of him because of his father’s job? and when he denied it, she insisted and asked if he ever feels shy/ashamed about it. i can’t remember the exact words but i do remember that i was so ashamed and angry that i never watched that show again.

    5. our news still does not report unofficial local news. WHY? TV should have the same type of news as localpapers. why doesn’t it? most of us have the option of watching other channels. the only competitive advantage that we could possibly have others is that we are local. this advantage is not being capitalized on. if people thought our news would be relevant to them, they would watch it. and by the way, who invented this “they discussed matters of mutual concern” business. if you are not going to tell us what, cut it out!

    6. am i wrong in thinking that when people are interviewed, the interviewer has usually not done their homework and actually researched the interviewee beforehand? hence, the resulting interviews are superficial.

    7. who decides what programs get made/shown? do we have a head of programming? and who decides the format of the shows that get made? is it left to the individual producers or are they told how it will be done?

    The newer generations are usually not funded in anyway and there’s no interest what-so-ever in bringing them into the spotlight… In other words they are simply ignored!!!

    why is that? are the old ones in charge and feeling too threatened to let the new ones through? do we have enough qualified people coming up the ranks?

    if there are companies that are qualified to make programs on their own, wouldn’t it be worth them considering them making programs and then selling them ready?

  17. alfanan

    Mahmood, I love the review. I didn’t see the movie yet, and honestly I don’t think I will. One thing I absolutely cannot stand in watching a movie is bad audio (in all its forms, i.e, score, dialogue, foley, etc.). This is a very delicate process, and requires not only an immense amount of talent, but also the right technical skills to be able to achieve the highest level of audio quality. The music score, for instance, can make or break a movie. Not many people think that way, and I’m sure our friends on the board of directors didn’t give it a second thought, simply because they didn’t pay attention to small details.

  18. Pardon the Interpretation

    Give it up Bahrain TV! And start giving your drama to real executive producers and production houses to produce, not actors or actresses!

  19. Mohammed

    Fatima abdulrahim is an amazing actor and a bahrani tale is also very good

  20. Proud Bahraini

    I don’t want to read I just want to watch the movie, and I don’t want it burnt.

    but I’ve heard it is a very good movie world class drama work.

    wish them best of luck.

  21. Ebrahim Assal

    Thanks any way for every literary work presented although it lacks so much experience and creativity besides the plot for every successful work wish you all progress in future
    Ebrahim Assal
    Ministry of Education Translation Specialist

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