Gate #5


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Gate #5
"Gate #5 is a passive observer, perhaps too passive."

You'll eventually learn that the titular gate is part of Beirut's sprawling port. You'll meet men who drove, owned, and loaded the trucks that carried cargoes backwards and forwards through the complex boundaries between parties and persons before and during and after the Lebanese civil war. You'll hear stories of Beirut gone by, of cinemas and shwarma, shifting allegiances and social breakdown. You'll hear personal stories, recollections of history, conversations that get derailed and old men arguing in the sunshine. You'll do all these things, and you'll be bored.

Gate #5 is a passive observer, perhaps too passive - there's a long car journey, stories of longer routes travelled by truck, but there's no drive. It opens with a long shot from a boat, motoring along a red and green cliff that runs on and on until it emerges as the massive hull of a cargo vessel. It's amazing to look at, immersive, but sadly indicative, because it doesn't go very far and it does so quite slowly.

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Our participants are old men, trading tales. There are shots of trucks, and more trucks - trucks that are parked, trucks being loaded, trucks that stop and checkpoints and trucks that are eroded. Away from the canyons of ISO standard containers, gathered round tables and drinking tea and arak and whisky, our old men sit among the trucks and talk. The camera observes them talking. Sometimes, barely, there are questions from behind it, but otherwise we sit and watch them sit and talk around Gate #5.

Simon El Habre writes (in as much as there is writing), directs, and was responsible for 2008's The One Man Village. Here again he works with cinematographer Bassem Fayad, and what they have created is wonderful to look at. There are many stylistic similarities, hardly surprising perhaps; long slow tracking shots from inside cars, a static camera observing without interacting, but there's not quite the same focus.

It's a cliche that fantasy novels have a map at the front, but there's a reason for it - it's a shortcut to an alien geography, a sense of place in hatched black lines in a frontispiece. Gate #5 establishes an existence, but it's a nebulous uncertain thing - history can be like that, but even when we are watching people remembering there are other sources, other avenues, other facts.

There are interesting moments certainly - trading favours to get brothers to an airport, conversations about cinema, the family land in the hills and a very hungry boy's trip back from market - but it's hard to escape the feeling of a box of photographs in no particular order, anecdotes connected only by the person remembering them.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2012
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A documentary about Beirut's Gate #5 and the people around it.

Director: Simon El Habre

Year: 2011

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Germany


EIFF 2012

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