The Adventures of a Mother... - A unique entry to Lebanese cinema
Though its relatively short runtime of 1h4m, this fascinating new Lebanese film manages to place the viewer front and center of this viscerally visual, and highly emotional, experience.
In a landscape filled to the brim with media that is meant to be consumed, it feels like a breeze of fresh air to find a film that demands you to focus on every frame and ‘experience’ it.
Such is the case with young Lebanese filmmaker James Chehab’s first feature-length film, the uniquely yet aptly titled The Adventures of a Mother and Her Daughters on Their Quest for the Meaning of Life and Other Important Things.
Despite that Chehab wrapped post-production in 2021 and has already had the chance of screening it in multiple festivals in Europe and L.A. - where it won the Silver Horizon Award at the Hollywood Arab Film Festival -, the film finally had its Lebanese premiere on Friday, September 2, 2022, at the Lebanese Independent Film Festival (LIFF).
If the title does not inspire “comfort viewing”, it is because it is the farthest away from it. Though its relatively short length of 64 minutes, the film manages to place the viewer front and center of this viscerally visual, and highly emotional, experience, as the protagonist of the film (played splendidly by Nay Abou Fayad) is contemplating life from her perspective as the mother of three young daughters, Farah, Lynn and Nour (played by Sienna Beyrouthi, Sarah-Marie Kobeh & Tamara Ghaddaf), while she struggles to come to term with her place in life with a heavily mentioned yet completely absent husband/father.
Chehab, in his feature directorial debut, manages to immerse us in the everyday thoughts, feelings, and minutia of the seemingly normal four characters. Every scene brings us closer to the psyche of the mother, tormented yet at peace with the reality she has molded from the fragments of her role as a mother and the wife of an absent man. Mixing intimate theatricality with intricately constructed dazzling cinematography (Chehab himself is the director of photography), in addition to a hefty reliance on home video footage shot mostly by the actors in scene, the film succeeds in painting an absorbing – at times challenging to follow – jigsaw puzzle that dares to question the pillars forming life: God, heaven, earth, hell and, as the title suggests, the meaning of it all.
Largely devoid of the much-maligned mainstream spectacle trickery and embracing its independent nature (the ultra-low-budget picture, solely financed by the director, is Chehab's master's thesis at the IESAV film institute, Beirut), the film restricts the scope of its ensemble cast but more than makes up for it with its honest mise-en-scene and its accompanying framing that boldly states its grandiose ambitions with these little characters as they embark on their quest, unbeknownst to them. One cannot help but think of a simpler Bergman picture, or a snippet of a Terrence Malick scene, when observing tender passages of the film.
The Adventures of a Mother is not a film for all, and it suffers from a few pacing issues which hinder the sincere imagery it tries to project, in addition to unintentionally erecting a wall of inaccessibility in certain scenes - which eventually gets torn down by a display of intimacy between the mother and her daughters, pushing one to wonder at times whether this is not simply an elaborate documentary.
This unique feature does not cater to anyone in particular, instead, it attempts to openly share the questions it ponders upon with its audience, becoming at times an inviting experience while still challenging our perception of the everyday and everyone. Chehab’s first feature is a flawed yet immensely engaging, sincerely written, and visually dazzling film that aims at immersing and exploring, rather than imposing. A great addition to the growing list of Lebanese films that reinvent the masses’ perception of what Lebanese films are.
The Adventures of a Mother and Her Daughters on Their Quest for the Meaning of Life and Other Important Things.
Directed by: James Chehab
Screenplay by: James Chehab, Evelyne Hlais & Nay Abou Fayad
Director of Photography: James Chehab
Original Music by: Scarlet Saad
Nay Abou Fayad
Runtime: 64 min