Beirut Hotel and Language

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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

One thought on “Beirut Hotel and Language

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