Habemus Papam


Habemus Papam, latin for “We have a Pope” is Nanni Moretti’s last work and my first encounter with his.
It opens on an atmosphere of expectation appropriately registered in the grandeur of wide-angles. With this kind of movies the frame of discussion is delicate, not because the subject matter is inaccessible, but because of the context it carries, and all the symbolism it is laden with, tinting each person’s perspective in significantly varying manners.
Having said that, the scene that follows the procession of the marching cardinals admonishing, to a succession of saints’ names, to “pray for us”is quite funny and disturbing to me. I hope the comical part is universally shared, though it is the apparent futility of such recitals, that presages the succeeding events.
This extended scene of the cardinals in procession to the Conclave to elect the Pope is splendidly cinematographic; it is one of those techniques that perfectly befits movies. To assist to this “Saint X, pray for us”for one minute,  and then as an alternating echo fading in and out over a journalist’s commentary for around 4 minutes, is captivating and I hope would not elicit a “fhemna” or “uff” from my fellow compadres. I love such long, focused, sequences (wish I knew the technical term); though they do appear extended, in fact they feel compact, for they carry a lot; those static images compel us to think and ask questions in a matter of minutes, that, in a novel for instance, would require hundreds of pages and digressions, and so, I hope to see more of them in current films.
As anyone who was brought up in the Christian faith or in a Christian environment, at one point, we have certainly asked ourselves the purpose of such repetitions. For the annoyingly inquisitive, I am almost certain, such questions induce some skepticism. There are quite a few esoteric numbers in the Christian faith: 3, for obvious reasons, 5 (on average) the number of times one must repeat “Our Father” and “Ave Maria”after repenting, 7, the number of Churches one must visit on the Thursday of the Holy Week, 9, the Neuvaine, and, last, 10 times reciting “Ave Maria” for one part of the Rosary (imagine that a full one will require 50 “Ave Maria”!).
What adds humor to this scene, though it could pass unnoticed, is when the orator recites: “All the saints and the prophets”and the procession to echo in unison: “pray for us”and then the saints’ names are recited again! This is typical in a Catholic or a Catholic-affiliated mass or ceremony.
This persistence in prayer bothers me; it is a material ritualization of an abstraction. It solidifies a parasitic relation between an earthly institution and its mortal members; and I insist on this term, mortal, for the Church, in turning the faithfuls to parroting machinists, cares only about their mortal facet.
Why would a faithful incessantly, monotonously, and meaninglessly recite to a Creator whom the Church teaches is all ears and love for His creation? Why would a faithful invoke so many mediators, when the faithful has an open line with the Creator?
Should a Christian, or more precisely, a Catholic, go back to the Source, the Scriptures, one need only pray “Our Father”and that is it. It is clearly stated.
This interminable repetitiveness from a mass of people to the cries of an orator confirms a cultural colonialism Christendom is responsible of; it clearly reflects the pagan infiltrations to the Christian prayers, turned rituals, that helped spread the new religion, increase its base, establish a hierarchy, thereby metamorphosing what should have been a metaphysical religion into an earthly institution.  As such, it is not without intent that the opening scenes of the film unfold to a succession of wide-angle shots of the Vatican and the Conclave.
To conclude, I go back to the movie, to which I’m grateful for this digression in thought, without it being restricted to the initiated, “Habemus Papam” has its own twists,  is rich in symbolism (I think of the elected Pope in the train), does not take the cheap turn of parody or irony, and delivers a powerful message, accentuated, in my opinion, before the end credits.

Camus, come back


2012 is a presidential election year in three “superpowers” France, the US, and Russia.

While in Russia people are on the streets and protestors mobilized online and on-the-grounds, denouncing Putin’s corruption, in France and the US, the election process has a different flavor.

Interestingly, in these two countries, where democracy is comparatively better instilled in institutions and processes, the people are presented with the “super candidate” images. It’s as if the media have become “candidate-centric”, bringing back to mind the days of communism, forgoing all objective analysis, in favor of promoting one candidate over the other… Libé vs Figaro in France, NYT/Atlantic/New Yorker vs WSJ the Post and Fox of course…

With the absence of a neutral body monitoring platforms, what have the pretenders become? Populist, multifarious quacks. I hear Hollande, the Socialist candidate, calling out for the “Rassemblement” while treating the incumbent president a “sale mec”; every slight incident, every economic plan, every suggestion is shut down by the opposing party, whether it makes sense or not; and why not? The media has become a mouthpiece for whichever candidate it has sided with. In declaring himself the president who will not be adding taxes and modeling his 2007 platform on Bush’s (GW) platform: liberalization of the banks, allowing for bigger debts to the average French household, Sarkozy, during his term, ended up crusading against the liberal economies, against the unbridled operations of the bank, and recently championing for taxes on financial transactions!

Such a scene brings back to mind Orwell’s Animal Farm, where the animals look at the ruling pigs and then back at their former human-master, against whom they rebelled, and fail to see the difference… (We experienced the same in Lebanin in 2005 and 2007, didn’t we?)

I chose the title for this post “Camus, come back” because I stumbled upon an hors-serie by the Figaro exclusively covering the life of Camus; in a particular period, where he began to drift away from the leftists with his book “L’Homme Révolté”, he retorts back at the infuriated leftists: “Si la droite disait que la terre est ronde, faudrait-il le nier?” (at that time, Sartre was barking his infamous “Tout anti-communiste est un chien!). In my opinion, this is the kind of talk that is needed these days, whether in France or in our dear old country. We are at a point where dialogue and open-discussion are no longer possible. A time when the pathetic mention of colors spurs the most absurd of discussions and positions among the average Lebanese.

In the United States, the political discourse is not dissimilar… In the coming months, it would be interesting to observe how as the Republican candidates travel deeper to the South, the holier they get, the more pious their images will become, the warmer their embrace will be felt to Born-Again Christians, the more regressive their political views and economic solutions will become, and then again as they travel East and Northeast, suddenly they become religiously-neutral (as neutral as a Republican can get, nevertheless), we will start about a reformation of the health-care system, and gone will be the talk of abolishing government institutions. It’s like these Republicans, though the Democrats when the turn will come won’t be much different, are running for an election in two different countries!

Yet, wasn’t it a Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who during the Civil War, adopted the formulation the “United States is”, instead of the federalist one the “United States are”?

I encourage your opinions and comments; if we are unable to talk reasonably with one another in this country, let us at least attempt it make it more successful online…

Beirut Hotel and Language


It’s intensive work to start a new post, but I suppose it won’t be my only one, so I will start with a local movie that generated quite the buzz online, Beyrouth Hotel directed by Danielle Arbid.

The movie was banned in this country, for political reasons or moral ones, no one is quite certain, and this ban overexcited people who saved the screening date, when it was announced that the French-Dutch channel ARTE will be showing it.

Seconds after the movie was over, it got heavily bashed online from intellectuals, to pseudo-directors, to plain ordinary people (myself included), so much apparently, that the director herself had to clarify that the polarization created by the ban, was the reason people felt disappointed with this movie. I can relate to the reasons behind much of the criticism; maybe people felt 2 hours of their time were lost, others by the free promotion a mediocre movie received, and still others discussed the plot, the portrayal of the main female character (Zoha), or the political insinuations.

All this is fine, but what surprised me were the comments I read which made fun of the Zoha’s dialect and language. Since she expresses herself in French with her lover, and given that she is a singer at hotel bar and comes from an average Beiruti background, realistically it makes sense that, most definitely, she has an accent, cannot instinctively enunciate, and fails with basic grammar rules. Instead of taking this part of her character as a well-spotted attention from the director, the online Lebanese community, grabs it as another opportunity to bash.

In my opinion, this focus on language, has nothing to do with the movie, but it says a lot about our mentality. It feels as if, with so much self-criticism that we daily produce, with this constant questioning that we have of our value as Lebanese, of our contribution to progress, the frequent comparison we draw against other countries (always skewed to the negative on our side), what remains is our solid “education”; an education whose strength lies with the three languages that we are taught, and which we “fluently” (at least that’s how every Lebanese CV shows it) express. Most probably a remnant of pre-war Lebanon, our command of a foreign language (namely French) represented an additional border separating people in this country; in other words, it conferred them superiority over non-speakers.

The sad sight one is confronted with is of those francophone Lebanese who, faced by a growing usage of English, virtually everywhere, commit the most ridiculous and tragically comic language blunders… One has to sign-in to Facebook to indulge in the most unintelligible writing. Yet, quite strangely, I find that wherever I find myself, someone is emailing me pictures of spelling mistakes of funny signs in Syria, or Saudi Arabia or Egypt; I, incessantly, listen to people making fun of a foreign worker mispronouncing some brand’s name, when a minute later that same person, in this ridiculous jumbling of tongues that we so proudly “manage”, utters something absolutely unintelligible that I am forced to ask, what do you mean? In a popular satirical social show on TV, Ma fi Metlo, one skit is called Mr. Loughat, and people find it quite funny! I do hope they are sharp enough to realize this show makes fun of each and everyone of them (myself included).

I do not intend my first post to be patronizing, God knows this post, and this blog, will be riddled with English mistakes, but I do hope that we humble ourselves and accept our shortcomings. Even if this last, seemingly fortified, bastion where we are holding ground is struck, I do hope that we consider it no more than a warning bell.

Perhaps my angle on Hotel Beirut has nothing to do with the movie itself, or maybe it does; it certainly is quite a narrow angle, and one that is most probably better developed in other movies, but at least it provided me with something to think about.

Why the movie was banned