Listen (Ismaii) [2017] ★★★


After a series of disappointing Lebanese movies (even “Nuts” was a crushing disappointment), it’s refreshing to encounter a local movie that I can genuinely recommend. Filmmaker Philippe Aractingi (“Bosta”, “Under The Bombs”, “Heritages”), who has been making feature films for over a decade, said that he wanted to tackle something completely different this time, and it shows. Since other Lebanese filmmakers seem incapable of crafting a credible romantic story (just have a look at anything starring Maguy Bou Ghosn), it remains for someone like Aractingi to portray a believable couple an audience can care about. I’m talking about Ruba Zaarour and newcomer Hadi Bou Ayash, who play a couple from different backgrounds. He’s a sound engineer. She’s a model who comes from a rich family. The plot truly kicks in when Rana (Zaarour) has an accident and ends up in a coma. Refusing to let go, Joud (Bou Ayash) decides to edit together sound compositions in an attempt to wake her up, hence the title of the movie “Ismaii”. These are characters that we often see onscreen, but rarely in a situation like this. How this incident affects Joud’s decisons, and ultimate destiny, is at the heart of Philippe Aractingi and Mona Krayem’s screenplay, brought to life with admirable honesty by Aractingi himself. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have its flaws. The story goes a tad too long and becomes repetitious at times. But that’s a small price to pay for a movie that held my attention right through the closing credits. I hope good reviews and word-of-mouth lead people to see the first good Lebanese movie of 2017.

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