Blog posting written by Stephanie Tokasz, Film, Photography, and Visual Arts ’24, minors in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies and Psychology, FLEFF Intern, Orchard Park, New York.
“It was cute.”
The term “cute” isn’t often used when scholars discuss two international art cinema films. However, in this context, “cute” was not necessarily being used as an adjective to describe the films, but more as an adjective to describe a missing aspect of the films, or perhaps one film in particular.
Adam (Touzani, 2019) tells the story of a mother, Abla, and her young daughter, Warda, who allow a pregnant stranger, Samia, into their home in Morocco. Skies of Lebanon (Mazlo, 2020) centers around the story of a young woman, Alice, who leaves Switzerland and finds love in Lebanon with an astrophysicist, Joseph. They build a life there together, but an emerging civil war eventually threatens their bliss.
At the start of the talkback, the moderator, Dr. Chelsea Wessels, an Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Film Studies minor at East Tennessee State University, asked the panelists to consider the broader contexts of both films.
The conversation began with panelist Dr. Hend Alawadhi, an Assistant Professor in the College of Architecture at Kuwait University, who observed that both of the films are about women fighting for multiple things, including equality and the pursuit of happiness, within their countries.
In return, the other panelist, Dr. Dale Hudson, an Associate Teaching Professor of Film and New Media and Curator of Film and New Media at NYU Abu Dhabi, pointed out the difference between their distribution methods. Adam is a collaboration between Morocco and France, while Skies of Lebanon is a French film.
In response to Dr. Alawadhi’s first observation, Dr. Wessels believed that another connection between the two films is the technique of using close-ups to break down barriers and establish a sense of intimacy, even though they do have stylistically different elements.
Focusing on other connections prevalent throughout both films, Dr. Alawadhi observed that both focus on women’s labor, with Adam focusing on work in a bakery while Skies of Lebanon focuses on women providing hospitality. Dr. Hudson expanded on this observation by stating that both women provide some sort of hospitality and allow other people into their homes.
In their separate contexts, Skies of Lebanon can be seen as more of a fantasy film because of its fantastical elements, such as the animation and bright colors used throughout. Dr. Hudson classified it as an “anti-realist” film because of those elements.
Dr. Hudson also stated that this is “probably [the] only Lebanese war film [he’s] seen where the war is absent.” He believes that the film is geared toward those who don’t know Lebanon, such as Western audiences, which is also why the art aspects might be so prevalent.
Dr. Alawadhi added to this by saying, “As an Arab woman watching the film, it was cute... endearing maybe more than cute... but could I connect with it? No, obviously not, but I enjoyed it.” However, she continued this by stating that the director didn’t have to give justice to Lebanese people because it wasn’t a documentary. It was a personal story about the director’s grandmother.
Dr. Hudson also agreed with the element of “cuteness” behind Joseph’s astrophysicist job; “The rocket in the background looks cute.” He had hoped that more would come of Joseph’s story.
As for Adam, Dr. Alawadhi found that “watching Adam was like watching a Moroccan movie.” She said, “I could relate to it much more... I could really feel that oppression... that heaviness inside the house.”
In highlighting the relevancy of Adam, Dr. Alawadhi believes that “it’s not really a story that is unique to Morocco.” Dr. Hudson agreed with this statement by adding that this film carved out ideas, especially controversial ones that aren’t commonly found in art films.
No matter whether there is an element of “cuteness” or not, Dr. Alawadhi concluded that it is “always good to watch these films despite whatever audience they are intended [for].”
Although the panelists agree that each personal story should be heard, such as the one in Skies of Lebanon, they are hopeful that more filmmakers can make films that bring controversial issues into focus in a realistic way, as Adam accomplishes.