Movie Reviews | Three Stories From Amman

Last night, three Jordanian short films were presented at the Balad Theater. Butterfly by Mohammad Hushki is a tale of a testosterone-ridden male and this two friends, who’s out to take his revenge on a cabdriver who molested his girlfriend. Fragile by Ahmad Amin brings together a day in the lives of five different people, while Grey by Qasem Kharsa is about a girl who battles her feelings towards another girl.

It’s hard reviewing Jordanian films, especially on this level because there’s a tendency or an inclination to swing towards that place where you have to stand up and applaud people for their effort no matter what they produce, because after all, it’s Jordanian. And I get that. I understand that tendency. But then sometimes, you can’t help but be honest and call a spade a spade. These three films were probably some of the worst I’ve seen in my life, and not just by Jordanian standards, but especially by Jordanian standards. I say this with all due respect to the filmmakers who I do hope go on to develop (a lot more) in their careers.

Butterfly attempted to look at the Jordanian male’s tendency towards violence, especially when it comes to defending the “honor” or “their” women. Their inability to listen to reason. However it was quite extreme and even the violence was a bit unbelievable or unrealistic. Somewhere after the first few minutes it no longer became about a filmmaker’s message, and it slowly became a Fight Club knockoff. Even the closing credits played “Where is my Mind?” by The Pixies, which also played at the end of Fight Club. (by the way, for people who are part of an industry that is really affected by IP violations and even put the word “copyright” at the end of their own work, they really are quite blase about using other peoples’ artistic work liberally!)

Grey was an attempt to “tackle” the issue of lesbianism in Jordan. It was placed in the context of very west Ammani bunch of girls who mixed Arabic and English, and even to an extent rejected any ideals that represented Arab or Jordanian culture. At one point, upon being asked what class she has next, a girl replied with “Arabic”, following it with a disgusted “eft”, right after they finish listening to some rock band. It was a film that gets done by about 1 million first year film students all over the world and had the same branded cliche inside-the-box themes, with the only exception was that it was set in Jordan (only you couldn’t really tell because it might as well have been set in Hungary).

Fragile was a lot of silence and a lot of nothing. I get the whole art house filmmaking genre, and I’ve even loved a few pieces produced by that “industry” as a whole, but this flew right over my head. There were no characters and no plot; just a few minute glimpses of people who are meant to be portrayed as “fragile”. Every clip seemed to have a character who was just wandering, smoking or drinking their worries away, in yet another testement to the triumph of cinematic cliches.

I don’t usually like disclaimers but I’ll offer my apologies to anyone who might be offended by these reviews. I am a huge film buff and I do support the local industry and its current revival, but I pray and I hope that it doesn’t move in this direction. I came to the showing thinking I would hear or see something really interesting and authentic about or from Amman, the city I love, and I was very disappointed to see it was basically a series of cliches after cliches until I couldn’t stomach it any longer.

As an audience member, I really implore any rising Jordanian filmmaker to look for originality in their work. If it’s a film that has to do with the country or the Capital in any way, try and capture the essence of it on screen.

16 thoughts on “Movie Reviews | Three Stories From Amman

  1. I completely agree. I think at the end Butterfly seemed considerably better because the lighting wasn’t so horrible. At the end of the day it raises two points – what films are these filmmakers watching? And who is their audience? I’m sure Grey would’ve struck a chord with West Ammani girls who do act that way — but films are not meant to be only seen (let alone understood..) by a certain part of society..

  2. “These three films were probably some of the worst I’ve seen in my life, and not just by Jordanian standards, but especially by Jordanian standards.”

    Same here ….

    and the attendance most of them came just cuz its a Facebook group and they have no clue about what are they going to see…

    MANY of teens , and first year uni student …

  3. Although I did promise myself to not read/post anything on blogs anymore…I find myself needing to defend Hushki’s film:

    Now, I did entertain the thought that maybe the film was good by comparison (because the first two were rather awful), but I do think the film was promising to say the least. You need to remember that these guys worked on a really tight budget, and I think that digesting Indie films is an acquired taste. Judging from your previous reviews on other films, it seems that you’re more into the whole Hollywood bustle, rather than leaning towards Indie or Foreign films. The two genres I think, need to be addressed and critiqued in different fashions. The first is highly commercial and provides rather linear perspectives and representations on issues, and are normally pseudo-intellectual, while the latter bypasses facades to discuss concepts or ideas; Indie films ultimately address or communicate messages or concepts that are not embodied in mainstream films.

    In Butterfly, the post-production and cinematography were both actually good, given the amount of money these guys had. Plus the acting was rather interesting (I felt that Ahmad Takruri had a presence although he didn’t utter a word, I remember the guy, although I don’t know him and although he didn’t say a word; that’s good acting). I liked Firas a lot as well (although he did get on my nerves, but I think that only means that he did a good job). The attitude in the film was highly genuine and authentic (maybe a lot of people couldn’t pick up on that because the charachters weren’t typical West Ammanis). I’m not talking about word usage and expressions, but it does depict our culture properly; the rules to break up in Jordan, social/emotional relationships. Not to mention that your review obviously missed the whole point of the film: When the waiter found Majd Hijjawi’s notebook at the cafe, he found a paragraph where she wrote about a girl that was sexually harrassed by a cab driver, meaning that the whole story was just fabrication (she couldn’t have possibly written the thing in the time she left the cab to enter the cafe), and she lied about the taxi driver harrassing her, so that her boyfriend will NOT break up with her (he mentioned how he wanted to “dump” her in the film), and how this guy acted on impulse and anger, although he wanted to break up with her, and despite her constant pleading not to do anything. Basically, it tackles a more important issue than just honor and honor killings, but how quick are we to judge situations, and just how much truth is there to accusations of sexual harassment.

    Also, I need to address another clever technique Hushki used, which is that he wanted to empower the viewer to make up their own decision of who’s right and who’s wrong (think the Stranger here) in terms of defining what’s evil and what’s good. He portrayed how the girl had lied, and how the boyfriend attacked the taxi driver, and wants us to decide whether the girl is evil, or whether the man is evil. I didn’t like the fact that they closed the film with Where is My Mind, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s a reference to Fight Club itself. I really think he wanted to offer a song that is in English but people can actually relate to (since we all know how Jordanians are obsessed with Fight Club). I didn’t like the fact that he went for a safe song, rather than to end the film with something a bit more daring.

    As for the first two films, I do agree with your analysis, they were just too bad!

  4. I came late when they were aleady halfway through the second movieso I missed Fragile. I can’t really judge since it was hard to see or hear the movies perfectly, but I thought I didn’t get the point of “Butterfly”, but now after reading this, I think I did get it but I was just expecting something more…

  5. i dont know man, i think thats too harsh of you… i think the films were good, and again they were made for less than 100 JDs (each)!! so it was without a doubt a great effort, and this talk about west ammnie’s from west Ammanies is really getting on my nerves, here we are discussing the situation of the (lower class east amman) in ENGLISH !! what is west amman and east amman, people in west amman are people too, and this communist/cool rich socialist attitude is getting old, read your comments people, what your basically saying is that west amman are different creatures from east ammanis, so your actually defending east ammanies by saying they ARE different!! like your pretecting an endangered species!! how in the hell does that make any sense?
    and why? we are all living in the same (very) small country! we all watch the same TV, and we know all about this thing called the internet, and to suggest that gay people only exist in rich communities is… lets just say the least ignorant!

    i didnt get the fight club thing except for the song, but hushki used this song in his previous movie ( colors of the haram) also with the credits, so maybe he just likes it! and we have to face it, do we really have any arabic songs that would be good to use with this kind of genre? i think not… and most good songs end up in movies anyway, so i dont know about this point…
    and for those who say it was too drastic, or unrealistic, you are OBVIOUSLY from west amman because not only that this happens in Jordan, but worse things happened to people for way sillier reasons, some people got killed for harassing some girl in the street… and anyway its just a movie, not a documentary about the lives of Ammanis in the 21’st century, so why do we accept this level of violence (or imagination) from hollywood movies but not from Jordanian movies!
    the same thing happened in grey, gay rights are becoming an issue in Jordan, gay clubs are emerging, people are declaring it more using facebook and other ways… talking about it in this sweet and non-sexual way is quite interesting (in my opinion), its not a movie about gays, its a love story, and a nice one also.
    which brings me to my final point, since when do we compare everything we see to hollywood, that is the REAL hollywood influence, people who dont want to be labled as main stream and alternative end up rejecting everything just because its american or hollywood, its like rejecting jeans becaus americans wear them, i mean violence is a global matter, and gay rights is a global subject, so the question is not whether these movies are too american or too french, or even too Jordanian! the question is are they good? thats all…
    oh and qabbani, smart comment about the attendance being teens and first year uni students, i guess you were never one of those… you and everyone you know came to the world cultured and mature… because as we all know teens and first year uni students can never be smart!!
    i mean… seriously man!!!

  6. i just want to point out that there’s no need to rush to anyone’s defense. i’m not attacking the filmmakers or even their work, im just being critical of the latter as any audience member would. i love short films and foreign films and i’ve reviewed many on this blog, and im also aware of the restrictions that come with this genre such as money, and i respect anyone that dwells in it.

    my criticism center around the ideas presented. some of those ideas were cliche and hollywood adaptations for a jordanian context, while others, i felt, didn’t really have those ideas shine clearly the way it was intended. i’ve seen movies that were made on absolutely nothing and was blown away by the sheer concept behind it.

  7. “At one point, upon being asked what class she has next, a girl replied with “Arabic”, following it with a disgusted “eft”.”

    REALLY!!!!??!?!? She said EFT?!?!?!?!

    😀

  8. well she didnt say “eft” she said “ikhh”, and i didnt get i,t why is that a big deal, i know alot of people who hated arabic in school, its a hard course and arabic grammer is not easy… and in uni taking an arabic course when your studying engineering seems very pointless, especially that we HAVE to take it, so i think its a valid response.

  9. constructive criticism anyone? I believe they’re just trying and with a new industry that people haven’t got enough into yet, they deserve something for at least trying

  10. Hello everyone,

    So I was pretty happy to see this blog. I think it’s very important to criticize the short films that are being produced. Cause what you usually get is the “Wow that was great” comment…ino Really!!!! no I know it’s not great, it might be good…a good effort perhaps, but not great!

    If I can talk about butterfly, yes there was no budget, as is the case with all independent films produced here. But I don’t think that’s a point to use to defend whether the film is good or bad.

    The simple truth is that people are trying out ..they are experimenting and that’s how we gain our experience …it’s not part of our culture. It’s all very new.

    the problem is the events that say ‘come and watch these brilliant films’, it pisses me off as well that I take the time out of my day and go to an event and am completely disappointed.

    A good idea can be that a small comity of interested people gather together with the directors/actors/scriptwriters and discuss their films. Open an online forum or smg.

    I’m not used to blogging …khalas bikafi.

  11. I’ve read everything nothing, only Grey has captured my attention. Where can I watch them?
    p.s: i feel ridiculous for not posting long comment, but i really want to watch it.

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