A Long Breath


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Long Breath
"Itani doesn't just offer straight-forward observation, also dipping her film into the realm of the abstract."

Remi Itani's debut documentary offers a snapshot of the Bab Al Tabbaneh district of Tripoli, an area which in addition to suffering from more general socioeconomic problems faces a raft of community tensions - the vestiges of old resentments from the Lebabnese Civil War and the spill-over from the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

Itani comes at the neighbourhood from the perspective of Ibrahim and Mahasen, not long married and with a baby on the way. There's a tear tattoo on Ibrahim's face but he also seems to bear an equally permanent internal imprint of sadness. He might be full of bravado when the director asks him about his plans for fatherhood, quickly turning his defence into offence by suggesting that she "has complexes", but often when her camera catches him when he's less aware of it, his face betrays and engrained and permanent level of anxiety.

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As Itani observes his day-to-day interactions with Mahasen and his family, we learn that he has addiction issues, although sometimes these are kept in check for a while by his faith. "He's got a good heart but he's stupid", someone says when the director asks what the best thing about Ibrahim is. Mahasen obviously has her own opinions - evidenced in occasional eye-rolling towards the camera - but it's clear that women voicing their concerns is most certainly not encouraged.

Itani uses the comings and goings of Ibrahim to explore wider problems - the way that criminal records stop young men getting jobs which, in turn fuels disaffection and plenty of time for those old grudges to ferment. Life is evidently tough in this part of town - where politicians and preachers seem to encourage animosity through echoing tannoy messages and where even small talk brings a threatening undercurrent about cutting off heads.

Ibrahim comes across as a gentle sort, potentially too gentle for the environment which is, quite possibly, why his self-harm also extends beyond drug abuse to cutting himself. Itani doesn't just offer straight-forward observation, also dipping her film into the realm of the abstract as she observes prison life at one point or, in a repeated theme, goes to an odd futuristic but abandoned theatre - designed by Oscar Niemayer - where the sounds echo up to a cacophony. Sound design in general is important - the recurrent sound of sea lapping the shore offering a tranquil rhythm that is a long way from the reality of a place which has regular visits from the Army. The film ends abruptly and could have used more shaping within the edit, so that the abstract moments flow more freely from the larger observational segments,  but Itani has an eye for both personal struggle and the bigger picture, capturing the sense of being caught - in a place, in a lifestyle and in a history, all of which make it difficult to forge something new.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2021
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A Long Breath packshot
Documentary snapshot of a couple in the troubled Tripoli district of Bal Al Tabbaneh.

Director: Remi Itani

Writer: Remi Itani

Year: 2019

Runtime: 67 minutes

Country: Lebanon


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