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Movie Review: The Kite Explores Life on the Lebanon-Israel Border

June 11, 2010

The Kite is a unique foreign film which blends contemporary history with magical realism — I’ve never seen anything like it.

This Lebanese movie, directed by Randa Chahal Sabagh, portrays a Druze village near the border between Lebanon and Israel. The Druze faith, as I understand it, is closely related to Islam. However there are some important differences. For example, the Druze faith includes a belief in reincarnation.

We are drawn into the lives of Lamia, a beautiful 16-year-old girl, her mother, her aunts, and her beloved little brother. The men are on the periphery, making decisions that dictate women’s lives but seldom in the picture. Lamia’s hand in marriage has been promised to her cousin Samy, who lives on the other side of the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Their community was divided when land was annexed by Israel. Lamia’s portion of the community is separated from Samy’s by barbed wire fences, guarded by an Israeli military checkpoint which they are not allowed to cross. This boundary separates brothers, sisters and cousins. We see women gathered along the fence line, armed with megaphones, shouting to their estranged loved ones on the other side while Israeli soldiers listen and take notes. The conversations between women, broadcast over megaphones, is often off-color and hilarious and sometimes made me cringe. For example, a woman advertised her son’s sexual prowess to his intended bride’s family, making reference to his affinity for nanny goats. Ahem … 🙂

Watching this, we realize Lamia will have to cross this border to join her new husband, whom she’s never met. She will do it alone, as only new brides and the dead are allowed across, and she is unlikely to see her family again.

We alternate between her story and the lives of the Israeli soldiers who guard the checkpoint. One of them is Youssef, a young Druze physicist trying to fit in with his Jewish comrades at arms. He watches Lamia, and hears her mother and aunts discussing her future over megaphones, and he comes to feel he “knows everything about her.” A spark of passion is kindled between the two teens. Then the movie becomes increasingly dream-like as it delves into the possibility of forbidden love in the midst of occupation.

This is a partly a movie about war and political oppression. It is clearly told from the Lebanese/Arab perspective; the Israeli side of the story isn’t explored. Nevertheless it is an eye-opening story about lives reshaped by shifting political boundaries and military intervention. It also explores the ways women assert themselves and exert control over their lives in a patriarchal  society that gives them a narrow range of choices.

The film is full of vibrant imagery, much of which has a symbolic quality. As it reaches its climax, it becomes increasingly dream-like, so the images seem more real than the plot. When I think about this movie, images are what stick with me most clearly. I see the pure white of Lamia’s billowing wedding dress, as she makes her solitary trek across the border, and of the children’s white kites floating around the barbed wire fence. I see men’s boots filling the screen, bringing authority and emphasizing the divisions between people. And of course the ubiquitous guns and barbed wire. This is a story about innocence and love in a world carved up by ever-changing political boundaries, war and violence.

Have you watched this movie? Do you want to? If so I’d love to have somebody to discuss this with, especially the symbolism and the ambiguous ending. Any takers?? 🙂

A Bit About Lebanese History:

I read up on this country’s recent history a bit, to better understand the context of the movie.

With the end of World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, world powers carved up the Middle East, and the five provinces that comprise modern Lebanon were put under French control. Lebanon won independence from France in 1943, while France was occupied by Germany. The Vichy government,  which managed France under Nazi domination, played an important role in their liberation. The newly independent country established a form of government known as confessionalism. Under this system, the various religious groups — mainly Druze, Maronite Catholics, and Muslims — are represented in government according to their relative demographic  composition. A Maronite Christian became president, a Shiite Muslim became speaker of the parliament, a Sunni Muslim became prime minister, and a Greek Orthodox became deputy speaker of Parliament.

After World War II, the creation of the state of Israel radically changed the Middle East. In 1948, Lebanon supported Palestine in the Arab war against Israel and became home to many Palestinian refugees. Over the years, Lebanon also became the base for PLO military actions against Israel, bringing the weight of the Israeli military against them.

After the 1940s, Lebanon thrived, enjoying relative peace and prosperity, until the country was thrown into civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. After the civil war ended, Lebanon enjoyed peace and stability again, and reconstruction of the country, after 15 years of war, was underway. In 2006, war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese Muslim faction. This month long war claimed the lives of a tremendous number of Lebanese civilians and left much of the country in shambles again.

Timeline of Lebanese History 1920-2009

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2010 12:42 pm

    Ah, a Lebanese film. My friend is always telling me that most every film about the Israeli-Lebanese Conflict is from an Israeli perspective (i.e., “Waltz With Bashir,” “Lebanon”). I like to check out different perspectives. This sounds like a good film and I’ll definitely queue it on Netflix.

    • June 11, 2010 12:52 pm

      Nick, You always inspire me with good ideas. 😉 I’ll look for Waltz With Bashir or Lebanon to add an Israeli viewpoint. I like to look at things from different perspectives too. And I am looking forward to hearing what you think about The Kite.

  2. June 11, 2010 1:55 pm

    This sounds like a really interesting movie, and I must say that Lamia is my favorite girl’s name ever. I always knew I would name my first daughter Lamia…then I ended up having three boys…

    • June 11, 2010 2:27 pm

      Amanda, I would be very interested in hearing what you think of this movie, especially since you’re passionate about the tragic situation between Israelis and Arabs. And Lamia is a lovely name isn’t it?

  3. June 12, 2010 4:07 am

    I think I like that The Kite is very woman-centred.

    Thank you for the timeline and the review.

    (Now I realise that it’s a nearly 7-minute movie!)

    (Well I remember the Hezbollah-Israeli war in 2006).

    The white dress is a great image.

    Yes, the Druze faith is closely related to Islam. Youseff is a great character.

    • June 12, 2010 5:06 pm

      I agree, Adelaide, that Youseff is a great character; I wish I’d gotten to know him better. He was almost more a symbol than a full fledged person.

      • June 13, 2010 7:57 am

        What is he a symbol of?

        (I think he might be a symbol of liberalism and the West, to put it broadly).

        And with the different religions in government/politics: a similar thing happened in Bosnia.

        • June 14, 2010 12:51 am

          Adelaide, I’m not sure. I saw a Lebanese Druze who’d become part of the Israeli army, sort of a symbol of Lebanon torn between two governments and cultures.

          I am intrigued by your broader interpretation. In what way do you see him as a symbol of liberalism and the West?

  4. June 12, 2010 1:56 pm

    I’ve never heard of this film – but I want to see it now after your great review and background history. Well done!

    • June 12, 2010 5:07 pm

      Stephanie, if you watch it, I look forward to hearing what you think. It looks like we’re a bad influence on each other 😀 — I’m reading Kafka on the Shore.

  5. June 12, 2010 4:26 pm

    I just added it to my Netflix queue – thank you so much for the excellent overview. You have really piqued my interest. I’ll be sure to let you know when I watch it – I’m always interested in sharing opinions.

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