TIFF15 REVIEW: Waves ’98 [2015]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 15 minutes | Release Date: 2015 (Lebanon)
Studio: Beaverandbeaver
Director(s): Ely Dagher
Writer(s): Ely Dagher

“It feels like everything is stuck in a loop”

Downtown Beirut is Waves ’98‘s lead character Omar’s (Elie Bassila)—a virtual, teenage stand-in for writer/director Ely Dagher—”white whale”. It’s a world he has yet to experience close-up, relegated to peering over and through concrete buildings from his safe suburban rooftop at a city split in two between the Muslim West and Christian East. Safety comes at the price of monotony and boredom, a perpetual news cycle of chaos and talk for peace that does nothing but instill fear or posit empty promises. The question becomes when enough will prove enough to finally cross the border and see what’s true himself. The answer is the allure of a glowing aura beckoning him to do so.

This light is the hope and promise of a rejuvenated city, a beacon to attract young open-minded people to cut through the prejudices and segregation and find a common ground of beauty in a once-great city. Manifested as a sort of Pleasure Island within a mammoth golden elephant housing the memory of its glory and joy for those willing to remember. Is it a fantasy—some communal aspiration fragile enough to shatter into pieces once sleep is disturbed? At a certain point our avoidance of reality’s harshness or desire for more serve only as idle thoughts without action so we’ll awaken decades later to the same circumstances or worse. Beirut is calling and to answer is to do more than dream.

My cousin visited Lebanon a couple years back when he was working in Saudi Arabia—the only family member of my generation (and perhaps our parents’) to do so despite distant relatives still residing in the country. The consummate tourist with camera in hand, he neglected to heed the warnings of signs demarking these religious/political/ideological borders and started snapping across their invisible lines. Someone saw and made him stop because paranoia and fear rule above the desire to share what the country has to offer to anyone willing to discover it. I couldn’t imagine being born within this quagmire like Dagher, minutes from the heart of a giant city like Beirut yet unsure of what might happen after closing that gap.

Telling what in his words is an “artistic exploration of [his] current relation with Lebanon” as much as narrative via animation (with some video footage mixed in) is the perfect way to depict the crumbling ruins against the hopeful paradise this elephant that never forgets projects. The emotion of this relationship can’t help but hypothesize about an unknown that his imagination can render as a re-creation of the past now that the present seems to be moving farther away from it. As an outsider you begin to lose the intimate grasp once possessed, the truth now separated by an expanding ocean. But just as those waves threaten to pull us away, they also have the power to push us back to shore.

Courtesy of TIFF

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