BEIRUT: It is rather interesting when a work of visual fiction is exhibited to an audience at precisely the right time – almost like an echo of the social discourse that is occurring in a certain nation.
With Lebanon’s current political unrest, and the lack of trust that the Lebanese have towards the government, it was only a matter of time before someone adapted this sentiment and from it crafted an epic tale about the oppressed.
FARMER’S REBELLION, which premiered on Sunday September 23, is an ensemble series that follows the farmers living in a fictional Lebanese town and their growing conflict with their tyrannical masters.
From the initial moments of the series, director Philip Asmar, wastes no time in clarifying the big budget and high production value of the series, from the beautiful landscapes to the magnitude of the Versailles-esque mansion, which in fact is an actual palace in Lebanon.
Veteran series writer Claudia Marchalian delivers her magnum opus with FARMER’S REBELLION, as it is intricately structured and the story is the echo of the beating drum within every Lebanese citizen.
In order to properly and critically recap this series on a weekly basis, the recaps will be broken down by two categories: THE NOBLES, which will follow the major developments with the wealthy family, and THE PEASANTS, which will follow the major developments regarding the peasants.
For once, the audience is thrown in media res (in the middle of) the story, rather than the typical overly-stuffy introductory episode of Lebanese drama series.
The members of the wealthy Nesr family surround their patriarch, known as the High Noble, as he lays on his deathbed.
The large family is made up of the High Noble’s wife (Wafaa Tarabay), her son the current Noble (Nicolas Daniel), his wife (Janah Fakhoury), and his children beginning with the heir apparent Fayez (Carlos Azar), Lamis (Ward el Khal), Maysoun (Farah Bitar), and Salim (Nicolas Mezher); followed by the Noble’s sister Narjas (Takla Chamoun), and his sister in law (Nawal Kamel) and her children Rameh (Bassem Moughnieh) and Adla (Tania Fakhry).
As the narrative progresses we learn that most of the family is empathetic towards the peasants, except for Rameh and Lamis: the former wants a domineering form of treatment towards the peasants due to his fears of the spreading rebellions across the country, and the latter blames them for her younger brother Salim’s paralysis.
This gives the series a very interesting dynamic within the family and nothing says good drama like good conflicting characters.
The tension within the family over the peasants, pushes Lamis to the edge as she snaps, towards the middle of episode four, and kills a servant girl after seeing her flirt with Salim.
This climactic scene is not only perfectly performed by all parties, it is also masterfully directed - for once the use of slow motion is effective and in its place.
In parallel to these events, two secret love stories are revealed, involving two separate family members and their significant others, who happen to be peasants.
The other minor storylines that begin to unfold include young Adla’s unrequited love towards her cousin Fayez, Rameh’s thirst for power, and Maysoun’s fears that she will be betrothed to her cousin Rameh – remember this is 1850’s Lebanon where inter-family marriage was the biggest trend.
A young peasant woman, Mantoura (Aimee Sayah), aided by her friend Foutoun (Sara Abi Kanaan), delivers a baby girl… the father being Fayez, the Noble’s eldest son and heir apparent – revealing the first forbidding love plot of the series – global audiences are continuously addicted to them, so we might as well enable said addiction.
She is ratted out to the Noble’s wife by one of many peasant spies which causes ripples that lead to, the child staying with an older couple in the village, with the promise that once the child is old enough, Mantoura is to take her and leave.
The second forbidden tale of romance is even more heartbreaking and it involves Narjas and Ayoub (Fady Ibrahim), a man who forwent his entire life in order to stay and see Narjas in secret.
This storyline, though in its early stages, has tragedy written all over it… it will be interesting to see how Ayoub’s silence all these years will boil over once the narrative’s kick occurs.
The focus here is on the different inhabitants of the land owned by the Nobles, who are essentially treated as slaves, as well as the bordering village where the handsome Nawras (Wissam Hanna) lives with his sister and her husband.
Nawras and Foutoun cross paths igniting their love story – something tells me this series will have more love stories as it progresses.
What plays out as a secondary love story completely steals the show due to both actors being on top of their game. Wissam Hanna charms the screen and is able to show both strength and vulnerability in a nuanced way, while Sara Abi Kanaan’s feistiness and femininity seduces with confidence.
An honorary applause goes to Lebanese actors Aleco Daoud and Mary Abi Gerges for delivering a heart-breaking scene when Abi Gerges, who plays Aleco’s wife in the series, loses her child, and their performance is just beyond powerful.
With the inhabitants living in misery, having to deal with the ever-growing mercilessness of the Nobles, many begin to show signs of rebellion and are severely punished in the hopes that this will snuff out future attempts of disobedience.
Punishments include: an older farmer being dragged by a horse, chained then whipped; the raising of tariffs and payments; Rameh stepping on a young farmer’s face with his shiny boot; and imprisoning a relative of the dead servant girl – and director Philip Asmar does not shy away from these moments.
By the end of the fifth episode, both Mantoura and Foutoun are chosen to be the new servant girls for the Nesr family and their expression says it all – while Mantoura hesitantly sees the possibilities this could bring, Foutoun only sees the worst as this means she could lose Nawras forever.
With characters soon potentially colliding, it will be interesting to witness how the story progresses moving forward.
From a critical standpoint, the series, so far, does not have many flaws.
Some of the dialogue does tend to fall into exposition and that is never a joy to hear coming out of a character’s mouth, some of the female peasants’ clothes look like the latest couture dresses (Nawras’s sister literally wears a white Elie Saab-esque dress) which absolutely makes no sense, some dodgy camera movements and editing choices, and as usual there are some moments of over-acting – and those moments are cringeworthy.
But, at the end of the day, no work is ever perfect, and being only five episodes in, the series strongly captivates.
FARMER’S REBELLION, created by veteran television writer Claudia Marchalian and directed by Philip Asmar, is a fictional historical prime time drama produced by Jamal Sanan’s Eagle Films currently airing Sunday through Wednesday on LBC after the national news.
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