Written by Reem Saleh, New Media, DFI
Director: Khalid Al Mahmoud, UAE
Cast: Hasan Al Marzouqi, Hussain Mahmoud, Razeeqa Al Tarish
Duration: 20 minutes
Two young men live deep in the mountains, away from the city. Every morning, they take to the road to sell vegetables that they grow themselves. As cars pass by them, all they wish is to earn some money for medicine for their sick grandmother.
Long shots, zig zag roads leading to rough mountains, and two young boys: these elements remind us of acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Mountains speak larger than characters, suggesting more desolation and unexpected turns.
The story itself may be an old chestnut, often told in Iranian cinema – getting medicine for a dying person is in itself a theme that will incite sympathy in the viewer – but the unique omission of essential elements, like dialogue and space, add a cinematic and universal approach to the film. We know then, that a young director from the UAE is taking his skills to the next level of worldwide competition.
Uniformity and repetition are key elements of assertion in the film, and going to and from the road every day adds hope through instances of anticipation. It makes you contemplate the film and these young men: what will happen to their grandmother now that she’s out of medicine? How will they sell vegetables now that the motorcycle is damaged? It accentuates the face of misfortune in front of an undefined fate.
Point of view is absent in the film, and fixed frames allow characters to step in and out, leaving you the choice of a plot. You don’t know their names, or where they’re from. The young men barely show any expressions, but the narration through silence and “no comment” scenes underlines that there’s nothing more to declare.
A long road with only two young men distances us physically from them, leaving us the choice to decide on their fate. Knowing that we may be one of those passengers, who pass by without noticing them, invokes a guilt that changes our perception of the road perpetually.
Both the opening and the closure of the film are framed with remarkable film scores by Tahar Ajami, which are not used further in the film, leaving the scenes to speak for themselves without additions. The final scene is the darkest in the film. No matter how predictable the plot might seem to be, it still leaves you woeful and thoughtful long after the credits role, thinking of the bitter reality of life.
Though influenced by poetic imagery and road movies, the film succeeds in creating a unique identity that is skillfully implemented. It is without a doubt a pleasure to watch.
DFI had the opportunity to sit with ‘Sabeel’ director Khalid Al Mahmoud, who is from the UAE, while he was in Berlin, and spoke with him about his film and the importance of being selected in Berlinale.