Facing the Sea: A Bewitching Portrait of Beirut as a Chaotic Ghost Town [critique]

Ely Dagher tells of a city exhausted by years of war and rough management, under the assumed influence of Antonioni

We discovered Manal Issa in 2016 in Afraid of nothing by Danielle Arbid where she portrayed a young Lebanese woman arriving in Paris to try to find a freedom there that she had never been able to find in her country and to integrate there through her strength of character that nothing seemed able to alter. In In front of the sea, Ely Dagher’s feature debut, his character experiences exactly the opposite journey. Settled in France for years, she returns to live in her native country and tries to reconnect with this city of Beirut that she struggles to recognize. Why had she left? Why did she choose to come back? These questions hover permanently over a story that will never seek to answer them. Because In front of the sea is a film of feelings, not explanations. We see it in the head of this young heroine – embodied with a majestic interiority by Manal Issa – who experiences this city as a kind of ghostly space whose inhabitants – starting with her parents, doped with anxiolytics – seem devoured by a lethargy growing while the incessant reconstruction of large housing estates deprives more and more of them of a view of the sea and, by extension, of the horizon. There is Antonioni in the way Dagher makes this city feel as much ravaged by repeated wars as by the failing management of its leaders. A bewitching and unfortunately premonitory gesture. A few weeks after the filming, the huge explosion of the warehouses of the port occurred which would add chaos to chaos.

By Ely Dagher. With: Manal Issa, Roger Azar, Yara Abou Haidar… Duration: 1h56. Released April 13, 2022

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