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.