In our age of cell phones, emails and tweets, sometimes we need a healthy jolt out of our comfort zones, a reminder that everyone isn't so well connected. Take the characters in the Lebanese film The Kite. Without phone lines or networks, they communicate with loved ones across the Israeli border by shouting. In the film's funniest, most memorable scenes, relatives stand at each side of the large buffer zone with megaphones, shouting personal information at one another.
Amongst their news, personal jokes, joyous exclamations and overlapping screeches, the women discuss the impending marriage of Lamia (Flavia Bechara), a head-strong 15-year-old girl who has been promised to her older cousin on the Israeli side of the border. She doesn't want to go, but no one ever really asks her how she feels about it. The town elders decide that she is to marry, so soon enough she has a ceremony before crossing the boarder in her wedding gown.
The film blends a realist portrait of its location and characters with whimsical, at times fantastical tendencies. It weaves other stories with Lamia's, including that of Youssef, a daydreaming soldier in the Israeli border patrol. Youssef is Druze, the same Muslim sect as the village, but is in the Israeli army. Charged to take notes on the megaphone conversations, he hears the personal details of their lives and becomes enamored with the headstrong Lamia.
The film doesn't aim for a perfectly structured narrative. Certain characters are poorly distinguished, and storylines don't always emerge as thoroughly as they should. For example, a major relationship pops in abruptly halfway through the movie, when it should have at least been quietly implied earlier on.
But writer/director Randa Chahal-Sabbag, who died of breast cancer last august, imbues her film with human moments, poetic meditations and compelling compositions that carry the film through its 75 minutes. It's hard not to empathize with these characters through the film's peculiar, loving eye.
The Kite's DVD comes as part of the Global Lens series, released by First Run Features. The Global Film Initiative started Global Lens to help promote world cinema through touring film series and DVDs featuring work from countries that either don't produce and/or export many films.
Frankly, this is the kind of disc that makes you more grateful for its availability than its presentation virtues, from the ugly animated menus to the bare-bones features.
The video itself is acceptable. The colors accurately represent the print I saw at the Global Lens series last year, with certain rich colors punching through the muted, brown landscape. There are some blended frames that suggest a PAL-to-NTSC conversion, but it generally isn't distracting.The film's slow-motion sequences seem to have originated at sound speed before processing and desaturation, but that's an aesthetic choice. Due to the film's short length, the single-layer compression still doesn't create any major issues.
The disc includes the film's original stereo Arabic track and burnt-in English subtitles, so you've got them whether you want them or not. There are no further options. I can't comment on the quality of translation, but the stereo mix is clean and well balanced.
The bonus features are pretty limited, unless you're teaching a class and want to use the discussion guide and fact sheet pdfs accessible via computer. The informative 15-page discussion guide includes some basic ideas about the film's themes and characters, along with a collection of "why did this happen?" questions of the sort you might have encountered after reading a novel in high school. The most helpful part is the overview of Lebanon's geographical and historical background. The guide is from 2007 and doesn't mention Chahal-Sabbag's untimely death in the biography. The four-page fact sheet contains standard press-kit info like credits and a director's statement.
In a DVD player, the disc offers the trailer for the Global Lens 2008 Series, which included The Kite and nine other films. The trailer is 4x3 letterboxed. There's also a text-based "showcase" describing other Global Lens films, as well as predictably thrilling descriptions of The Global Film Initiative and First Run Features. (GFI's page features several branch-off pages describing their various programs.)
The Kite is an idiosyncratic study of the effect of real and metaphorical borders on our lives and our psyches, containing interesting characters and lovely cinematography. While this DVD isn't the most thrilling release, its contents are at least worth a rental.
Jeremy Mathews has been subjecting films to his criticism since 2000. He has contributed to several publications, including Film Threat, Salt Lake City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, In Utah This Week and The Wasatch Journal. He also runs the blog The Same Dame and fronts the band NSPS.