Dubai Festival Diary 3: 'New Arab Films' Panel, 'Wadjda,' 'Detroit Unleaded,' 'Chaos Disorder'

by Meredith Brody
December 14, 2012 11:25 AM
1 Comment
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'Detroit Unleaded'

It seems that a number of them – not just Lebanese now living in Dubai, but Lebanese who have lived in Detroit, or have relatives living there now -- have managed to find their way to this screening, as they attest during testimony during the enthusiastic q-and-a afterwards. They laud the director, Rola Nashef, who spent nine years in her quest to make it, and her three main actors: EJ Assi, a Detroit native in his feature film debut as the guy with ambitions beyond operating his family’s gritty gas station/convenience store; Nada Shouyahib, fresh out of college in her first-ever role as the middle-class daughter also eager to escape working in her brother’s cellphone business; and Mike Bateyeh, playing EJ’s cousin and co-worker, the veteran of the group, another Detroit native who’s knocked around LA as a standup comic and actor with a couple dozen credits, including an arc on “Breaking Bad.”    

It’s not a flawless movie, but it has interesting and unexpected rhythms both in its dialogue and situations, and believable chemistry between the romantic leads. I’m not surprised when Nashef says her next film script, also set in the Lebanese-American community, revolves around a group of girlfriends: two of the best scenes in “Detroit American” involve the tight-knit group of Nada’s gal pals.

Segue from a interesting but conventional Hollywood-type film, however independently produced, to the world premiere of “Chaos, Disorder,” the debut feature film from a young Egyptian woman, Nadine Khan, who graduated from film school in Cairo, has worked as an AD and made short films. An isolated community, living among garbage is dependent on quixotic outside forces for food, water, and electricity, while a love triangle brews among the disaffected youth. You don’t have to be particularly sophisticated to see a political parable. It’s hard not to think of Samuel Beckett when you see people on top of garbage, and because of the enclosed setting and brisk 76-minute running time, I think that “Chaos, Disorder” could also be a satisfying play.

A guy asks me where the shuttle bus is, and he turns out to be a Tunisian film professor who has also just seen “Chaos, Disorder,” which he didn’t like – specifically because it was both a parable and theatrical. I tell him that I also found it theatrical, but that Samuel Beckett is very good company for it to be compared with.

What, I ask, have you seen that you liked?  “Moondog,” he says.  When I get back to my hotel room, I email Peter Scarlet : “How was Moondog?”  “I ankled it after an hour,” he replies, in Varietyese. Knowing that not everybody watches everything all the way through, I ask: “I’m assuming you wouldn’t recommend it?”  “Perhaps to curiosity-seekers with a strong masochistic streak…”  

That’s what makes horse races.

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1 Comment

  • Khairy Beshara | January 16, 2013 7:55 PMReply

    Film Festivals become now more far from innovation and experimental spirit, Peter Scarlet with "Moondog", is thinking the same way James Agate did with Citizen Kane.
    Critic James Agate was decidedly negative in an October 1941 review, countering the superlatives given Citizen Kane by critics C. A. Lejeune and Dilys Powell. "Now imagine my horror, which includes self-distrust, at seeing no more in this film than the well-intentioned, muddled, amateurish thing one expects from high-brows. (Mr. Orson Welles's height of brow is enormous.) … I thought the photography quite good, but nothing to write to Moscow about, the acting middling, and the whole thing a little dull.

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