Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"We get to see every inch of Hassane's skin without ever truly being able to get beneath it."

Aesthetics are to the fore in Mazen Khaled's Martyr, which completes the trio of Biennale College films in Venice alongside Beautiful Things and Strange Colours in 2017. From the off, we are taken on a tour of the human body, as his camera lingers over the statue-like naked form of central protagonist Hassane, first, almost as though carved by Michelangelo, in a diving pose and then beneath the waves - the first of many references to water and art that run through the story.

We will soon see him head to the Beirut beach with his friends, where the day will take an unexpected turn. In terms of plot and characterisation, there's not much to go on here, beyond the general sensation that these young men, like so many in virtually any country you can mention, are suffering from a sense of disenfranchisement and marginalisation. There is also an exploration of the homoerotic elements of this almost exclusively male space but though we look at their physical interaction, their emotional world remains largely closed to us.

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While the look of Khaled's film is distinctive and features good DoP work from Rachelle Noja and Talal Khour, emphasising the blues of the water or brightness of the summer's day, the themes are under-developed. We learn that the term "martyr" means something very different in the Islamic world to the narrow definition employed by the West but the term still remains frustratingly opaque, with Khaled not giving us quite enough information to easily fill in the gaps.

Similarly, we get to see every inch of Hassane's skin without ever truly being able to get beneath it. The insertion of choreographed elements, while well put together in their own right, also interrupts the overall flow of the film. Khaled has a visual flare but is let down by a focus that is so intellectual that it fails to fully engage with its characters' humanity. Hopefully, he'll get the opportunity to bring his keen eye for image and ambience to a more fully developed story and characters in the future.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2017
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An unexpected event during a day at the beach, forces a group of friends to grapple with loss.
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Director: Mazen Khaled

Writer: Mazen Khaled

Starring: Carole Abboud, Hamza Mekdad, Mostafa Fahs, Hady Bou Ayash, Rachad Nassereddine, Rabih el Zaher, Yara Abou Haidar

Year: 2017

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Lebanon


Venice 2017
Flare 2018

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