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A teenage girl from a Lebanese village must leave her mother and brother to cross the Israeli-Lebanese border as she is off to fulfill an arranged marriage to her cousin. Meanwhile, she and a border soldier fall in love from a distance. In The Kite (2003), director Randa Chahal Sabag explores the traditions of the Druze community while communicating the unique kind of strife brought about by political unrest and ever-changing land borders. (RMM: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Roza M. Melkumyan
The Kite (2003) takes place in Deir Mimas, a village in southern Lebanon divided (barbed-wire fence and all) by the Israeli occupation. The village is populated by Arabic-speaking Druze – a unique, ethnic, monotheistic religious group. In the fields by the border, 15-year-old “Lamia” (Flavia Bechara) and her young brother fly kites with the other children. When her kite lands on the other side of the barbed wire, Lamia displays her fearlessness by crossing the fence to fetch it, ignoring the risk of setting off a landmine. Her boldness catches the attention of “Youssef” (Maher Bsaibes), an Israeli Druze soldier keeping guard at the border.
Though Lamia’s mother “Amira” (Randa Asmar) is heartbroken at the prospect of never seeing her daughter again, she resignedly honors the engagement arranged years before between Lamia and her cousin across the border, “Sami” (Edmond Haddad). Through megaphones that echo across the No Man’s Land between Lebanon and Israel, Amira often communicates with Sami’s mother, “Mabrouke” (Renée Dick). In one exchange, the two mothers take turns singing the praises of their respective children, making arrangements for their upcoming union. Their amplified conversations allow Youssef to become better acquainted with Lamia, who he soon finds himself to be in love with, despite his military superiors’ disapproval.
After carrying out a wedding ceremony, the villagers deliver Lamia to the border gate, where she must walk – clad in a wedding dress and veil – along a path through No Man’s Land to the Israeli border, where she will meet her husband for the first time. For the following few weeks, Lamia’s unhappiness is made clear by her refusal to eat or speak. The few times she does talk to Sami, she tells him that she hates him. Sami finds her harshness unfair, as he didn’t want to get married either. He offers her a divorce, which she also refuses – likely because she wishes to remain close to Youssef, who resides on the Israeli side of the border. During another megaphone exchange, Lamia is present. When given a pair of binoculars to see her mother, she instead turns to Youssef and smiles.
Despite her wishes, a divorce is granted, and Lamia must return to the Lebanese side. On her walk back across No Man’s Land, Youssef takes a risk and runs up to her. The two quickly and discreetly brush hands before he returns to his post and she to her family. Though her reputation has shattered in the eyes of her community, Lamia can think only of Youssef, and the two find themselves gravitating closer towards each other.
What makes The Kite particularly compelling is the uniqueness of the circumstances its characters find themselves in. Members of one community are suddenly citizens of two different countries. Families are quite literally divided as a barbed-wire fence paired with armed soldiers makes movement between the sides practically impossible. So often with history, we become so engrossed in the bigger picture that we forget about disruption and devastation on the smaller scale. Powerful nations drawing and redrawing land borders for power is nothing new, but focusing on the minutia of such situations certainly helps a person reevaluate the gravity of their effects on individuals. One day you might visit your cousin across town, and the next, you find that you have been barred from seeing them altogether. Worst of all, you have absolutely no control. You can only sit and wait and see what happens next, whatever politicians and militaries decide through diplomacy and brute force alike.
On a cinematic level, the premise that Randa Chahal Sabag has chosen makes for scenes both visually strange and surreal. Women yell through megaphones across a vast expanse, empty save the soldiers that stand guard along the way. A young, unhappy bride picks up her white skirt as she walks along a dirt road suspended between countries. In such moments, the peculiarity of it all is not lost on the audience. It is all we see. Only once the dirt on the path begins to settle does the depth of devastation sink in. These people have been completely and utterly torn apart.
This being said, I confess I expected more. Sabag places her film in a time and place that is rich in culture and generates social and political discourse. The plot and its characters, however, could stand to have a bit more substance and clarity. There is no doubting that Lamia is intelligent, headstrong, and even brave, but these are characteristics void of any accompanying mind or feeling. I wanted to know Lamia’s thoughts. Before her marriage, she says barely anything on the subject. Only when she has crossed the border do we get an idea of the contempt she feels regarding the whole affair. For most of the film, it isn’t evident that she returns Youssef’s love. The idea that they might be star-crossed lovers, therefore, lacks believability.
Though it could stand to delve deeper into its characters, The Kite shines in its setting, its visuals, and – surprisingly – its humor. In each megaphone exchange, the women let their personalities shine unabashedly. I found much of their conversation, of their game of insults and praises, to be hilarious. When Amira and Mabrouke trade praises for their children, I couldn’t help but laugh. I was particularly tickled – and maybe a touch disturbed – to hear Mabrouke say that her son is such a mighty man that at the age of seven, he “mounted a nanny goat because he had such a hard-on.”
© Roza M. Melkumyan (11/25/20) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Lamia walks to the Israeli border, across which she will meet her new husband.
Photo Credits: Global Film Initiative
Lamia’s mother discusses her daughter’s merits with the other women in their community. Lamia talks with a school friend about babies.