'Ghadi': Busan Review
Artist Amin Dora makes his debut with a universal comedy about bigotry and redemption that was chosen as Lebanon’s official Oscar entry
A teacher in a provincial Lebanese town is forced to face off with his intolerant neighbors over forcibly removing his Down syndrome son to an institution in Ghadi. As a film, visual artist and filmmaker Amin Dora’s feature debut doesn’t have a mental capacity much greater than its title character, but Dora’s extremely gentle satire about bigotry, redemption, faith and acceptance has the kind of sweet nature that helps it pull off its ridiculous premise. Ghadi is the kind of movie that flirts with disaster at the DNA level but thankfully manages to rise above its potential for discomfort, embarrassment or worse. The New Currents entry at Busan is also a blessedly apolitical comedy from Lebanon’s fledgling film industry that should generate a healthy dose of festival interest. Limited release in overseas urban markets isn’t out of the question for creative distributors, particularly in the run up to awards season.
Leba (screenwriter Georges Khabbaz) is a quiet teacher that overcame a stutter in childhood and the scorn of his nemesis Gerard to marry the beautiful Lara (Lara Rain, so underwritten as to be nearly invisible) and settle into a comfortable life in El Mshakkal. He has two daughters, and finally a son, Ghadi (Emmanuel Khariallah), with Down’s. Ghadi spends most of his days sitting in the window like Leba did growing up, much to the chagrin of nosy, gossipy neighbors that have all manner of insult to describe the boy with. When they present Leba with a petition to either institutionalize his son or leave town altogether, he rustles up the allegiance of the Town Gay Man, Lello (Samir Youssef), the village idiot Karkar and the local black man for a campaign to convince the town Ghadi is an angel. As the ruse spirals out of control, Leba’s motivations become equally magnanimous and defensive. By the time his deception is discovered, it’s too late. The town is cured of its bigotry and it’s profiting from being home to the Angel of El Mshakkal. To let it slip Ghadi has a tooth-rotting happy ending is no spoiler.
Khabbaz’s script has a lot on its plate and juggles a lot of characters (more symbolic archetypes really), but thankfully Dora is an adept storyteller and draws just enough personality from each to make up for lapses in writing, though it doesn’t help some of the elements. Is it likely Gerard (Rodrigue Sleiman) will be carrying a grudge from middle school? Must the town’s women be reduced to bitter jilted lover, whore or barren? The film’s biggest crime is sidelining Ghadi to plot device status, bathed in the ethereal light of purity at all times (we get it, everyone else is wrong). Khabbaz and Dora lovingly roast their recognizable fools rather than skewer them, but it keeps the tone light and fluffy, and that’s clearly the intent over heady sermonizing (compare it to gut punch of Any Day Now). One of the film’s best running jokes is that half the men in town are called Elias, and Khabbaz as actor (Under the Bombs) plays off the idiocy of his townsfolk with aplomb. It may be facile in its messaging but the polished production and adamant view of a better human nature make Ghadi hard to resist in good conscience.
Production company: The Talkies
Cast: Georges Khabbaz, Emmanuel Khariallah, Samir Youssef, Lara Rain, Antoine Moultaka, Camille Salameh, Rodrigue Sleiman, Caroline Labaki
Director: Amin Dora
Screenwriter: Georges Khabbaz
Producer: Gabriel Chamoun
Executive producer: Gabriel Chamoun
Director of photography: Karim Ghorayeb
Production designer: Nathalie Harb
Costume designer: Rana Abbout
Editor: Rana Sabbagha
Music: Nadim Mishlawi
Casting director: Najat Adem, Vivianne Ghaoui
World sales: Fortissimo Films
No rating, 99 minutes