A PERFECT DAY (Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige, 2005)

In the opening shot of Yawmon akhar, a bewitching film from Lebanon, a hand tenderly runs fingers, in closeup, through a sleeping somebody’s hair. When the camera pulls back, we see to whom hand and hair belong: a woman and her grown son. Isn’t she behaving too intimately, even sexually? The moment becomes explicable.
     Fifteen years earlier, during the Lebanese Civil War, Claudia lost her husband; he was kidnapped, never to resurface. While raising her son, Malek, she waited, hoping that the boy’s father would yet somehow reappear. Today, mother and son will see a lawyer and sign the papers, certifying that their spouse and father is officially dead. The two are close—for Malek, who needs to go off by himself “to breathe,” too close. The boy has a condition: sleep apnea; enormously tired, at any moment he may fall asleep, and fall asleep for good. What we witness in the opening scene is a mother trying gently to awaken her son, to reassure herself he will awake. Afraid she is breaking faith with the boy’s father by having him declared legally dead, Claudia is perpetually poised for the possibility that she will also lose her only child.
     Meanwhile, Zeina, Malek’s girlfriend, has tried ending their relationship. Like Malek, she is fearful of looking back and hopes to be able to look ahead. How can she do this when she loves someone who may die at any moment?
     The writing-directing team of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have thus wrought a brilliant metaphor for the aftermath of war in Beirut. Malek and Zeina are too young to “own” the past and seek to shun it; but their future remains clouded, perhaps doomed, by this recent past.
     Moody, disquieting, restless, hypnotic, haunting.

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