Solitaire brings Lebanon-Syria tensions to big screen

Film reflects history of animosity ac­cumulated over years of Syrian military intervention in neighbour­ing Lebanon.

(L to R) Actors Nicole Kamato, Jaber Jokhadar, Serena Chami, director Sophie Boutros and actresses Julia Kassar and Betty Taoutel pose upon their arrival for the screening of their movie Solitaire during 13th Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), on December 11th. (AFP)

2016/12/18 Issue: 86 Page: 23

Dubai - Therese is a Lebanese mother keen to meet her daughter’s groom-to-be but she is shocked when she hears his Syrian ac­cent, setting up the central conflict in the film Solitaire.

Solitaire, which premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival, reflects a history of animosity ac­cumulated over years of Syrian military intervention in neighbour­ing Lebanon.

It also highlights the mounting tension between Lebanon’s small population and the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled their own country’s devastating war since 2011.

Therese’s brother was killed in a Syrian bombing during the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. His portrait on the wall loomed large over Samer and his family as they sat in Ther­ese’s living room.

“Send them away to where they came from,” she ordered her daughter Ghada, who met Samir in Dubai.

“Your future mother-in-law seems racist!” followed the warn­ing from the Syrian suitor’s mother.

For film director Sophie Boutros, the antagonism in her feature film is “rooted in an unpleasant history between the Lebanese and the Syr­ians during Lebanon’s war”.

Syria was the power broker in Lebanon where it deployed troops for decades until they had to with­draw following former prime min­ister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in February 2005, despite its denial of any involvement.

The conflict in Syria over the past five years has sent more than 1 mil­lion Syrians to seek shelter in Leba­non, where they now make up one-quarter of the population.

The film is “an observation of something that is real and that we should shed a light on”, Boutros said on the red carpet.

Lebanese and Syrian actors star in the 92-minute film, whose script was written by Boutros and Jor­dan’s Nadia Eliewat.

“The timing of the movie is good because of the current tension,” said Lebanese actress Betty Taou­tel, who plays the role of Ghada’s aunt. “People hate each other sometimes because of politics, de­spite the fact that we are all victims of these politics.”

The movie comes to a climax when Ghada tells Samir he should be grateful that her mother has fi­nally accepted their engagement “despite (him) being Syrian”. At that point, Samir walks out with his family.

Television producer Elie Ara­mouni said Boutros has managed in her first movie to “strike a bal­ance in a very sensitive story”.

“The best thing about Solitaire is that it does not preach. It introduc­es the problem as is,” he said.

Instead of focusing on the prob­lems that distort relations, Solitaire tries to focus on the similarities be­tween the two peoples, including cuisine and music.

“This film brings us closer to each other more than it pushes us apart,” said a member of the audi­ence, Zeina al-Sayyed, as she left the theatre.

Solitaire is scheduled for release in March in Lebanese cinemas.

(Agence France-Presse)

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