The following review contains spoilers, read at your own risk.
BEIRUT: It is always a rather worrisome task when one has to analyze or critique a film that tackles a cause, or a topic that addresses a serious social issue.
Khalil Dreyfus Zaarour’s new film Nour is the tale of a young fifteen-year-old girl from a Lebanese village who’s married off to a much older man and the trials and tribulations she suffers at his hand.
“The movie is based on a number of true stories, not one in particular. We adapted the facts that came to our knowledge to cinematographic requirements and to audience expectations,” Zaarour explained.
Heavily influenced by indie Western cinema, the film has a rather visually appealing look with landscapes of the village across multiple seasons.
This is done with a purpose as the film begins in Summer with Nour and her friends experiencing the joys and the rebellion of their childhood contrasted with Nour and Wassim’s budding young love and leads to Winter as Nour’s life falls apart after having married the older man.
The symbolic parallel between Nour’s life and the seasons is an ode to the death of childhood and innocence and very strategic in Zaarour’s vision for the film.
It is clear that Zaarour strived to ensure that Nour is as visually cinematic as possible another great push for Lebanese cinema and an element of the film that should be recognized and applauded.
Where the film flounders, however, is in its screenplay.
Though at its core the film tackles this controversial topic, it does not settle into the narrative paradigm fully, allowing the film to appear rather shallow at times.
Co-written by Zaarour and Alissa Ayoub, the writers spend half of the film pulling the audience into the lives of the young friends and their joyful, free-spirited summer, and upon Nour’s marriage the film restricts its audience to Nour’s life as an abused wife, ignoring the children and the rest of the characters in the village.
This is a rather missed opportunity.
Here the writers could have allowed the audience to witness the damaging effects that Nour’s marriage had on the entire village.
As an example, Nour had two female friends and though there were scenes that showed some of the conflicts the girls had with Nour’s marriage, a deeper look would have been much more effective and powerful.
Those two young girls would have been in a sense an echo of the thoughts going through young girls in the audience.
“The audience should be drawn to the movie to be responsive to its message, and sadness usually fails to communicate a message,”Zaarour states, and though that may be true, the entirety of the film’s second half is filled with a melancholy that becomes redundant as Nour’s abuse becomes almost formulaic and routine risking predictability.
Yet the film’s weakest point in the paradigm is its third and final act.
With so much of the film’s duration spent building the world surrounding the protagonist, i.e. the village’s routine, the neighbors, the inhabitants, Nour’s friends, etc., by the time the narrative reaches the marriage the film is already at its midpoint.
The rest of the film spends its time within the confines of Nour’sprison, and her yearning to reach out and regain her past life.
Yet, this swiftly becomes repetitive and lacks a proper climax.
Zaarour and Ayoub, both via the screenplay and the film, set up images that play off as foreshadowing the resolution, but the actual resolution does not pay off any of them.
One particular set up is the sequence that shows the audience Nour tightening a rope, setting a cushion, then a thud and her feet swinging, only to reveal that she is on a swing.
This Kuleshovian set up cues the audience to expect a suicidal finale, and yet it does not occur and the scene loses its power and relevance due to this.
A trick for the sake of being a trick is nothing but a hollow shell.
The anti-climactic final moment of the film is a chase sequence that leads to a shot of a recaptured Nour near a window at night with a storm outside and the film cuts to black.
Bleak and rather vague, there is no true meaning or message behind this.
It almost feels as if both writers could not properly resolve the conflict at hand and rather than risk a clichéd suicide or hopeful ever after, they end the film with more mystery and a rather dissatisfied audience.
The idea that a film can be limited to a proper paradigm and end up predictable is a fear shared by many filmmakers in the region, specifically the up and coming filmmakers. Yet, the industry has proven time and time again that the most successful films and the most remembered and cherished films are those that fit into the three-act paradigm.
Nour’s strength not only comes from its visual beauty but also from its strong and charismatic cast.
Vanessa Ayoub, who plays the film’s protagonist, carries a heavy weight and responsibility and does so with a maturity and a vulnerability that is not easily found in young actors.
From the innocence and youthful joy to the fragility and melancholy of the abusive marriage, Ayoub delivers and though waivers in some scenes, she easily earns the title of the lead role.
The rest of the young cast are all a joy to witness, including the performance of the actor that plays Wassim, who does a fine job playing the broken-hearted Romeo.
The adult cast, from Khalil Zaarour himself to the great Julia Kassar and Aida Sabra, all fit their roles perfectly and deliver grounded characterizations.
Overall, Zaarour’s picture is a good and relevant film, that will be remembered for its uncomfortably powerful, though weak at times, narrative and its unsatisfactory ending.
With all that in mind, it should be seen by Lebanese audiences and recognized as the kind of film that should be considered and worthy of the name cinematic.
Nour is now playing in Vox Cinemas.
Alan Mehanna is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. He received his MFA in Screenwriting from Full Sail University. Alan is also a film instructor at the American University of Science and Technology and Antonine University.
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