Every Day is a Holiday -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

ROME -- A small, off-beat allegory whose central image is three Lebanese women walking through the desert, "Every Day Is a Holiday" makes a valiant attempt to capture the disquieting atmosphere of contemporary Lebanon in a surreal story that never really jells. The script's theatrical whimsy, written by first-time director Dima El-Horr and playwright Rabih Mroue, is not very involving, but is partially offset by visually inventive images that announce a strong directoral voice in the making.

This is going to be too abstract for most audiences, though fests should welcome its feminine angle and low-key politics.

A bus full of women leaves the terminal for a long ride to a remote men's penitentiary. One of the women, played with simple realism by Middle Eastern star Hiam Abbass ("The Visitor"), is nervously carrying her husband's gun in her bag: He's a prison guard and he left it at home. A tough, alluring woman (Manal Khader, "Divine Intervention") is determined to get her husband to sign their divorce papers. And a dreamy young bride (Raia Haidar) is going to visit her husband, who was arrested on their wedding day.

With three completely different styles of acting, and speaking in French and Arabic, the actresses seem to represent different layers or mind sets of Lebanese society. They are thrust together when a stray bullet suddenly kills the bus driver (no explanation given), forcing the passengers to take to the desert road.

El-Horr uses the arid landscape as a menacing backdrop fraught with danger and looming catastrophe. As the women hobble along on high heels, they pass fleeing villagers who spread rumors of attacks and massacres, while planes fly low overhead. The images are unsettling and ambiguous: Black-clad women carry sacks on their heads. A road is littered with dead chickens after an accident.

As one character says, Lebanon is the land where nightmares bloom. No concrete details ever emerge, however, about this war or the politics behind it.

All atmosphere and dream imagery, without any real dramatic content or meaningful interaction among the characters, the film becomes tiresome in the end. It's not clear what this meeting between femme frivolity and a country at war represents. The scriptwriters do come up with an ending that makes dramatic sense, though only Hiam Abbass gives her character enough poignancy to strike an emotional chord.

Venue: Rome Film Festival -- Competition

Production companies: Cine Sud Promotion, Nikovantastic Film, Orjouane Production
Cast: Hiam Abbass, Manal Khader, Raia Haidar, Fadi Abi Samra, Berge Fazeliah, Nabil Abou Mrad, Karim Saleh, Sirvat Fazeliah
Director: Dima El-Horr
Screenwriter: Dima El-Horr, Rabih Mroue
Producers: Thierry Lenouvel, Sabine Sidawi Hamdan, Hanneke Van Der Tas, Nicole Gerhards
Director of photography: Dominique Gentil
Production designer: Jaoudet Gassouma
Music: Pierre Aviat
Editor: Jacques Comets
Sales: Umedia
No rating, 79 minutes