Manara – European Independent Film Festival 2020 – Film Review

Manara is a riveting intrigue filled film with Hitchkockesque elements which earned the film the prize for The Ahmed Khedr Award for Excellence in Arab Filmmaking in this year’s European Independent Film Festival due to its evident quality filmmaking. As it was one of the films recommended in my 10 films to see article, it was pleasing to learn of its success in the festival.

Manara is a reflective three hander depicting grief and loss as the patriarch of the family has inexplicably died. Atmospheric from the outset with waves dramatically crashing outside a lighthouse and a sweeping non-diegetic score, the film provides an eerie ambience. There is the assumption from the furtive glances amongst the characters that perhaps all is not what it seems. Long angles and minimal dialogue ratchet up the suspense in a manner similar to Chabrol films.

Manara effectively, through close ups, turns everyone into a suspect. The camera lingers on the mundane tasks associated with meal preparation which appear menacing, a pot of tea boils over at a cooker, the use of a kitchen knife to chop vegetables also seems threatening with influences of Psycho apparent.

However, we are witness to the differing coping mechanisms employed by each family member whilst subject to the scrutiny of the unseen community. The film occurs in Lebanon and as such it is insinuated that there are social norms and rituals to be undertaken despite grieving.

Pascale Seigneurie as Noura in Manara
Pascale Seigneurie as Noura in Manara

Director Zayn Alexander has skilfully crafted a tale that straddles the genres of a murder mystery but equally examines societal pressure and customs. Manara is a stylish, emotional study and offers that commentary on the role of women and the requirement to maintain appearances. For instance, the daughter is scolded for visibly expressing her sorrow and for entering her father’s room. The brother attempts to be more restrained but the camera follows his anguish as tensions are revealed as well as accusations.

Manara in its 15 minute length portrays that uncomfortable dynamic surrounding death and its impact on those left behind. The film unravels the simmering, unspoken tensions within a family which, similar to the boiling pot, erupt as the familial structure changes.

Manara is very well executed in its exploration of grief but avoids being entirely bleak. Hala Basma Safieddine as the mother has a particularly striking screen presence and the camera tracks her movements whilst outside smoking a cigarette still dressed in black in aesthetically pleasing scenes.

The subject matter of Manara, concerning mental issues and apparent suicide, appears to be taboo in Lebanon as the mother is questioned as to the response that she will provide to her mourners. Her response is that they would state that her late husband did not deserve any tears for abandoning them. The entire circumstances surrounding the husband’s death remain a mystery until the very end in this impressive tautly directed tale of a family in distress and mental health.

The trailer for Manara can be seen here

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