I’M BACK BABY! Not really, this is probably a one-off for the foreseeable future so enjoy it as it last.
I don’t watch Arabic movies. I find them quite over the top and over-reliant on tropes. However few days ago I found myself going with a bunch of friends to see one. It’s a 2016 Lebanese film called Mahbas (Solitaire) and here’s my 2 cents on the it.
The film is centered around a woman named Theresa who lost her brother to a Syrian missile. This created in her a deep hatred for Syria and Syrians. Going as far as despising Syrian singers who she used to love. Unlike most xenophobia and racism angles in film, this one has some reasoning behind it: The death of her brother broke Theresa and she never got over him. She’s so broken by it she still communicates with him in his pictures, animating his different portraits scattered in every corner around the house with her imagination of what he’d say. Think of it as the singing pictures in Harry Potter mixed with the Joker in the video game Arkham Knight. Except that Theresa’s no Batman, and her brother, unlike the Joker, is a figment of her imagination from start to finish.
Now imagine when her daughter brings home Prince Charming. You can guess where this goes, no? Of course you do you silly sausages! He turns out to be Syrian. Shenanigans ensue as Theresa starts to plot a breakup between the two young lover and we start to get into deeper personal conflicts and character motivations. I should preface the next bit by saying that I won’t discuss the love triangle in the film. While well done and acted, it doesn’t really strike a chord with me and while it felt like the main selling point of the film, it certainly isn’t its backbone.
This a dichotomous film; bittersweet as it hides its pain behind its laughs. And there’s plenty of both. It does devolve into a sap-fest by the end, but it contains minor, occasional intricacies that make the film what it is. My favorite is a moment when the soon-to-be finance’s mother (FM as I’ll refer to her for ease) and Theresa are on their own in the living room, fireworks go off in the background, and FM jumps up from her seat in fear as Theresa laughs it off as being simply fireworks. Here’s a woman, portrayed as being bourgeois, uptight and stuck-up, brought down to earth by memories of a war only those who lived it can relate. Her muscle memories so attuned to only a few things: fear and death.
It was a very short scene, less than 20 seconds long, but it spoke to me: Regardless of your background, war doesn’t differentiate.
The film never really addressed the fact that maybe the Syrian family, and not just Theresa, lost loved ones in this war. Maybe it would have become overly sappy, but Theresa’s reconciliation should not have simply been moving on from the death of her brother, but dealing with who actually killed him, and it certainly wasn’t this bunch.
All in all, I quite liked the film. I think a better version of it would have shuffled the two main stories around in terms of priority and screen time, but I’m not a filmmaker so what do I know? If you ever find it coming across your TV, give it a watch, it’s not a bad romp.