The One Man Village

The One Man Village

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Nestled in amongst the hills of the Lebanon is a village, cut into the side of a valley, built up and down a switchback road. It has a church, a shop, homes, a farm with a milk parlour, and ghosts. It is a dead place, abandoned, the church ruined, the shop flattened, only one man remains.

Semaan is his name. This film is made by his nephew. The village of Ain al Halazoun is his home, and it is an empty place. He lives alone, tending his cows, his horses, waiting. He drives around in a battered Datsun Rainbow, a hard working vehicle with a throaty roar that speaks of heavy use and poor maintenance.

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We watch him go up and down, gathering hay, milking, living his life of isolation in this ghost village. There's a sadness, hardly surprising given the history, but it's a wistful, gentle, melancholy. This is a portrait of a man who has become the only life in a place, a remnant of an age passed.

Lebanon has had its fair share of history, much of it visited upon small places like Ain al Halazoun. Decades of civil war, invasion, occupation, whatever words are appropriate have left it ruined. Semaan puts it well: "no one knew how it started, only how it ended". There are no factual revelations here, in truth, Middle Eastern politics is of fractal complexity, a spiral of tragedy, suffering all the way down.

Semaan seems a lovely fellow, a bachelor uncle not through choice, but circumstance. The family's various travails slowly unfold through stories as he goes about his daily business. This is a story of personal sadness, part of a tragic whole.

That the village is gone is clear enough, but how it got this way is a mystery not considered - those who lived there left, and when they returned there was no village. There are smaller stories here, an Easter celebration with mountains of tabbouleh, the snows of winter, a horse running free, talk of marriage and loves lost, a brief return for harvest. Taking a moment and framing it, however, one can see the whole from the part.

Simon El Habre, who, directs has a sharp eye. The film's angles and composition are often stark, affecting, a sort of intimate distance. Emil Aouad's sound work is very good, demonstrating clear ability. The mixture of live sounds, the occasional music, all contribute to the feel of this film. It is haunting, moving. Perhaps the most striking is the final shot, the view from a car as it drives slowly up the village road, and out, leaving one man, unseen, behind.

Reviewed on: 07 Jul 2009
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An old man talks about his life in the Lebanese village of which he is the only remaining occupant.
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Director: Simon El Habre

Year: 2008

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Lebanon

Festivals:

BIFF 2009
EIFF 2009

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