Review: Costa Brava, Lebanon

Costa Brava, Lebanon

Lebanon: 2021
Original title : –
Directed by: Mounia Akl
Screenplay: Mounia Akl, Clara Roquet
Performers: Nadine Labaki, Saleh Bakri, Ceana Restom, Geana Restom
Distributor: Eurozoom
Duration: 1h45
Genre: Drama
Release date: July 27, 2022

Even though Costa Brava, Lebanon is her first feature film, Lebanese director Mounia Akl is far from a beginner. Indeed, she has worked on TV series, directed Submarine, a short film dealing with the garbage crisis that Beirut experienced a few years ago, a film selected at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and very noticed, and also co-directed another noticed short film, El Gran Libanowhich opened the Directors’ Fortnight in 2017. Developed as part of the Ciné Fondation residency in Cannes, Costa Brava, Lebanon was part of the Orizzonti Extra selection at the last Venice Film Festival, in September 2021.

Synopsis : Lebanon, in the near future. Soraya (Nadine Labaki) and Walid (Saleh Bakri) have built an idyllic life in the mountains, far from the disorder and pollution of Beirut. In this haven of peace, three generations coexist in apparent harmony: the two daughters – Rim 9 years old, Tala 17 years old – the grandmother and the Badri spouses. All is well until one day Rim spots some strangers in the valley. The peaceful life of the family is brutally called into question by the installation of a supposedly ecological landfill. Despite the ambient corruption that makes their fight hopeless, the Badri stand up. This external chaos soon has repercussions on the family cocoon…

A paradise in peril

It’s been 8 years since Soraya and Walid Badri made a very strong choice: Despite Soraya’s success as a singer, the couple fled the deleterious atmosphere of Beirut, its pollution, its manifestations in which he and she participated with fervor but which led to nothing, to come and build their paradise in the surrounding hills. A house, a swimming pool, olive trees, calm, this is what they offered to themselves as well as to Zeina, Walid’s mother, and their two daughters, Tala, 17, and Rim , 9 years. Until one “beautiful” day, one of the major problems of the Lebanese capital comes to relocate to their doorstep: the waste crisis that the government thinks it can solve, thanks to funds from foreign countries, mainly , the France, with the commissioning of a new landfill, “compliant with international health and ecological standards”, in what is considered “the best place”, in this case the land below the place of residence of Badri family. The telephone works very badly at the Badri’s, so they could not have been warned, and the arrival of workers, construction machinery and a gigantic statue of the president, announced by Rim to his parents, is for them a painful surprise. A surprise that is all the greater since the land on which this landfill has been set up is supposed to belong to Alia, a sister of Walid who left the Lebanon to settle in Colombia.

A summary of Lebanon’s recent history

Between 1950 and 1970, before the civil war that ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990, the Lebanon was nicknamed the Swiss from Middle East : a prosperous country, politically stable and in which it was good to live. Although the agreement of Taif of October 22, 1989 is supposed to have put an end to this civil war, the antagonisms between the various denominational militias have since never really ceased. You can see in Costa Brava, Lebanon a summary, both geographically and over time, of the recent history of the Lebanon : a small paradise transformed into hell by an event, here the arrival of this landfill, which, in addition, fractures the micro-society represented by the Badri family. Indeed, even if the film continues to denounce the ecological ravages of certain projects, even if the indictment of the corruption which reigns in the country is never abandoned, we quickly feel that it is the repercussion of the events that saw the Badri family on each of its members, which interests the director above all: between Walid, supported by Rim, headwind against the project and the men who are there to set it up, and Soraya who, in the end, would see herself taking over life before their departure to the countryside, the gap continues to widen. Zeina has long dreamed of joining Alia in Colombia. As for Tala, she is more or less out of the game, titillated by the awakening of her sensuality and irremediably attracted to Tarek, the site manager.

Two questions

Even before seeing the film, simply by reading its title, the viewer is not left unquestioned: what is the Costa Brava, this Spanish region so popular with tourists, in the title of a Lebanese film? It’s very simple: south of Beirutat the mouth of the river Ghadirwas opened in April 2016 the landfill of Costa Bravaone of two landfills presented by the Lebanese government as a solution to the eight-month waste crisis that the country went through in 2015 and 2016. A landfill located near the sea and in the immediate vicinity of the international airport of Beirut, therefore in an environment very different from what we see in the film, but whose name necessarily evokes something for the Lebanese.

Another question arises when we look at the casting of the film: for the interpreter of Rim, the 9-year-old girl, two names very close while being different, Ceana Restom and Geana Restom. Again, the answer to this question is very simple: they are twins, two little girls resembling each other like two drops of water but with very different characters, one very calm, the other endowed with a very great energy. The director has exploited this difference, having them both play, most often using their natural behaviors but also sometimes having them play against the grain. Of course, we never know if it’s Ceana we see on screen or if it’s Geana, but for us, spectators, what’s important is what we see and what we hear and, what we see and what we hear is absolutely stunning in its naturalness. Simply stunning talent! Headlining an excellent cast, we find two names well known to moviegoers: in the role of Soraya, Nadine Labakithe director and actress of Caramelof So where are we going now and of Capernaum ; in the role of Walid, the Palestinian comedian Saleh Bakri which we have been able to appreciate in a large number of films, including The marching band visit, The source of women, Girafadaand Wajid – The wedding invitation. Furthermore, it would be unfair not to mention the high quality of the photography, the fruit of the work of Joe Saad, already present on the recent the last piano.

Conclusion

This first feature by a young Lebanese director is very promising. Helped by an excellent cast and by a very good Director of Photography, Mounia Akl talks to us with strength and talent about his country, formerly nicknamed the Switzerland of the Middle East, but whose geographical environment as well as the great religious diversity of its population have contributed to causing major problems for several years.

Review: Costa Brava, Lebanon – Film Review