This article was originally published, and is quoted from, Cedar Wings December-January 2005/06.
Following the premiere on December 1, "Bosta" has topped the box office ratings in Lebanon, beating Harry Potter among other international blockbusters.
If you're Lebanese, you can expect - for once and for the first time - to see yourself in a world-class Lebanese feature film/musical, yourself as you are, not a melodramatized version of who you're supposed to be. "Bosta" is a movie about modern Lebanese identity. Beneath the colloquial Lebanese dialogue runs a subtext that reaches deep into the roots of Lebanese consciousness. The plot touches on sensitive themes (postwar survival, children/parent relationships, adult temptations, national identity, self-worth) and functions on several levels (that of the society, family, and individual). It captures the dynamics of many a dichotomy: the individual vs. the group, local vs. expatriate, young vs. old, past vs. present. Encompassing so much that evokes identification, "Bosta" will have a personal meaning for every Lebanese viewer.
Rather than being the pawns of fate or victims of tradition, Bosta's characters are mature, living, breathing, contemporary adults conscious of their lifestyles, responsible for their decisions and aware of their consequences. Their collective society, while retaining its links with the extended family, is giving way to a recognition and celebration of individuality. Each must pave his own way and make his own mistakes. As the characters realize, and as the Lebanese know too well, change is never easy, but living in denial makes change even more difficult. "Bosta" reveals how personal identity can conform to, and clash with, a national identity so culturally rich and so open to East and West that the interaction between the two often verges on the schizophrenic.
For the first time in Lebanese cinema, 'right' and 'wrong' are relative, and the camera pierces through stereotypes of postwar Lebanon. The most beautiful discovery the characters' dance journey makes is that questioning the authority of heritage - for the purpose of reinventing the present - is neither fatal nor doomed to failure. Welcome to Lebanon, the land of innovation and self-transformation. Rather than leaving you with the all-too-common "I can't, not in Lebanon anyway", Bosta leaves you with the belief that "You can, even in Lebanon".
After 15 years of exile in France, Kamal returns to Beirut with his mind set on one goal: recreate the dance group he had formed with his school friends and whom he hasn't seen since - but today, not only does he want to bring back this disparate group together, but also take the bold move of introducing a Western flavor to the traditional Dabkeh music. When the dancers audition before the jury of the national Dabkeh festival, they are curtly rejected on the basis that they are causing prejudice to the "only cultural icon left". This prompts them to refurbish their old school bus and embark on a road trip across Lebanese towns to perform and introduce their pioneering dance to the public. As they struggle to win people over to their alternative spirit, each of the dancers realizes that they have also embarked on a personal journey to reconnect with their childhood, their friendships lost and found, the pains of the war and of separation...a journey that will lead a group of friends to turn the page on a painful past.
Born in 1964, Philippe Aractingi left Lebanon at the age of 19, heading to London and then Paris with his mind set on becoming a director. Two years later, he returned to be hired by the Lebanese television network LBC. He made his first documentary at age 21, after which he produced the French-speaking TV program "Mosaic", and went on making documentaries and short films about the war, aired on Antenne 2, Canal + and Radio Canada. Once again fleeing the war, he returned to France where he worked on Envoyé Spécial, one of the country's top-rating TV programs, as well as on films for France 3 and TF1. At the age of 28, he decided to travel around the world. He ended up making films for Discovery Channel, Learning Channel USA, BskyB in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Mongolia, South Africa, Sri-Lanka, among others. After 12 years spent abroad, he returned to Lebanon to make "Bosta". To date, Aractingi has made over 40 documentary films. He has participated in various international festivals, and gained many awards. "Bosta" is his first feature film.
The financial strategy adopted to bring to life "Bosta" could well set off a much-needed dynamic in Lebanon's film industry. Aractingi's decision to turn to regional investors, rather than the typical channels of European sources of funding that most Lebanese filmmakers resort to, was driven by the very nature of his film. "I became a producer because I had no other choice. I think that my film is off the beaten track, because it's not typically a film from the South. So I had trouble explaining my choice to Western commissions that only view the South in a certain manner," he explains. "Another reason why I returned to Lebanon is because I thought that the money that exists in the Arab world could be used for Arab films, and that it is time for us, filmmakers from the region, to be able to film the way we want to, rather than according to a certain frame that is imposed on us by a North-South paradigm". This strategy, set up by Arab Finance Corporation, is based on a new financial structure called investment certificates. Unlike shares, these certificates offer investors rights on future revenues but no right to vote.
To transport viewers back and forth across time, Aractingi and Director of Photography Garry Turnbull made the bold decision of using two formats. The present was filmed with High Definition Digital Video (HD), a state-of-the-art technology which provides a 'realistic' look, while the dance sequences were shot in 16mm, making it possible to capture them in slow motion and giving them an identity of their own.
"Bosta" features Rodney El Haddad, Nadine Labaki, Nada Abou Farhat, Omar Rajeh, Bshara Atallah, Liliane Nemri, Mounir Malaeb, Mahmoud Mabsout, and Rana Alamuddin, with special appearances by Sabah and Ruwieda Atiyah.
Q&A with "Bosta" Producer/Director/Scriptwriter Philippe Aractingi
Why did you choose to make a musical?
To make it light! After years of making documentaries, of years in exile in France, I wanted to tell a story that was light, that had nothing to do with the war, which I had all too often filmed. When I returned to Lebanon, I discovered a new country altogether that had nothing to do with all the stereotypes. It was bursting with life! I fell in love with this amazing vitality, and I decided to talk about the people I met; Mediterranean, colorful characters...A whole universe that's on the Eastern kitsch side, sometimes absurd, but always full of life. But when I actually got down to the writing, I realized I couldn't sum up this lightness. For four years, I struggled against a past that made up half my life, and that was the war. So I finally understood that all the energy the Lebanese people have is really an instinctive survival strategy of some sorts - a way to get over the weight of past suffering. And I decided that I had to make a film that reflects who we really are: both light and sad. This struggle to find a balance between lightness of being and heaviness is present in the film, which is articulated around the black and the light tones. And it's funny that those who remained in Lebanon during and after the war are those who have managed to lift themselves up, while those who left are still weighed down by their past... I think that it's because when you leave, memory freezes. So really, it was the musical format, the dancing and the singing, that helped me navigate between the heavy side and the more colorful one.
How did you come about with the soundtrack?
Well, I knew I wanted to revisit the traditional dabkeh. But I had no idea how. I did a lot of research before I could make up my mind on what kind of music I wanted for the movie. The challenge for me was how to revisit all the old tunes, but without getting lost into some 'cheap' remix. Finally, I chose to work with Ali el Khatib, who did all the arrangements and who worked with traditional musicians to give the typical texture and arrangements. Then this work was handed over to Simon Emmerson and Martin Russell, both from the UK, and who have been working for 20 years on themes from around the world, making them more accessible to Western auditors. Simon and Martin work on a kind of music they call "Organic", which blends various music instruments from around the world that are brought together. We ended up with this techno-dabkeh, which I think is great!
Why is the Bus itself such a central element in the film?
Lebanon is made up of so many different societies and cultures, and it's this multitude that forms the essence of the country. I needed a vehicle that would take me towards all these identities in order to talk about one identity - that of Lebanon. The second reason is that "Bosta" is a great metaphor for talking about reconstruction. It's the symbol of a common wound. In 1975, the war was triggered by a massacre inside a bus. For all the Lebanese people, this word symbolizes the beginning of the war. The characters in the movie take one of their old school buses, repaint it and travel with it on a journey to reconstruct their past. Metaphorically speaking, when they paint over the burnt facades of the bus, they are also wiping off their wounds...My "Bosta" is no longer that of the war, but that of a generation that chooses to move on.
Check the latest "Bosta" show times in Lebanon
Pictures courtesy of the "Bosta" official website
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