The Kite — Over the Lebanese-Israeli Border — a Film

Many years ago I translated The Manuscript of a Crow, a short story by Spanish author Max Aub, the protagonist of which was a crow relating its observations of human beings as he saw them in their concentration camps.  He was astounded that a man could go to sleep a Pole and wake up a German and then, not too much later go out shopping and come back to find himself a Russian.  Human history never stops spinning its wheels in the same ruts and so a similar story is found in Randa Chahal Sabbag‘s wonder of a film, The Kite.  Released in 2003 it apparently never made the round of US art houses, and too bad for all of us.

Set on the Lebanese-Israeli border where the barbed wire and watch towers divide two Druze villages, the story is of  Lamia [ Flavia Bechara]the most charming 15 year old girl you’re likely to have seen in recent movie time. She is sent off to marry her cousin Samy [Edmond Haddad] on the Israeli side because well, the men have decided so.  The opening scenes have her flying kites with her sweet and much loved younger brother, right along the border.  Her wing-like, white kite gets away from her and lodges up against a barbed wire fence.  She sets off to get it, to the screaming fear of the kids, and a handsome Druze guard: she is walking across a mine field.

Because of the separation of the two villages, families, cousins, sisters, the negotiation for her marriage takes place between the two gates, via bullhorns, womaned by the most raucous women you’ve likely ever heard, abaya clad or not.  She’s ready for marriage yells her mother, “She started menstruating two years ago!”  When it’s suggested the new husband isn’t man enough for the girl — “beautiful from the tips of her toes to the ends of her fingers”– his mother yells back that he is such a stud he mounted a nanny goat when he was only seven!

Lamia wants nothing to do with the arrangement.  The two families swap videos of the intendeds.  She is not impressed; his not much more so.  But, what does a 15 year old girl have to say in a rural Arab village?  Not much.  After the wedding festivities on her side of the border, off she goes, fully gowned, alone, along the dusty “crossing” through the no-man’s-land to meet her new family.

It does not go well.  And, she has caught a glimpse of the handsome guard catching a glimpse of her catching a glimpse of him.  Nice dream sequences follow.  More hollering back and forth across the divide, as Lamia proves impossible.  Her rather sweet groom doesn’t insist, and returns her insults rather more sadly than she hands them out.  “I only wanted to help you.  You can go back.”  She being the stubborn girl she is — wait till you meet her mother!– says she doesn’t want to go back.  She wants to stay here!  Eventually she is returned  and the film uses the opening white kite to pull us into a marvelous magical-realism ending in which love and transcendence and erotic longing suggest, at least in the imagination, the only way to dissolve the wounds of politics, armies and ancient hatreds.

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