Yamo: A Film About the Collapse of the Left
By: Farid Kamar
Published Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Perhaps the best way to document the Lebanese Civil War and its psychological effect on ordinary people is to delve into the the experiences of those who lived through it and suffered its horrors without taking part in it.
Their experiences are not part of the lying game practiced by the actual participants to justify a war they claim was imposed on them.
Merely by recalling events, the victims are participating in the construction of a collective memory that does not seek to serve a political or sectarian point of view.
Yamo (Mother), directed by Rami Nihawi, is a practical project to document memories of the war and its repercussions.
The director had no need to recount the battles and sagas. He had no need to interview repentant fighters or militia leaders to construct the memory of the war. His goal was to move on from projection to investigation, and for this, the only source he needed was his mother, Nawal.
The film, screened as part of “Scrapbook: A Month of Lebanese Cinema,” and now out on general release, is a personal documentary that no one can argue against.
No “loyal” leftist can blame him for his criticism of the Left and the changes it went through, because the film simply tells the story of his parents.
No sectarian individual can demand balance, or accuse him of bias in his criticism of the sectarian milieu he grew up in, because he is talking about his real milieu.
There are no actors, no made-up characters and no big production. It is a personal documentary, made on a shoestring budget.
The film tells the story of Nawal, a communist, who rebelled against her family and background to marry a Syrian Muslim man belonging to the Baath party.
She was enticed by his secularism and his rejection of extremism. They even got married in a church and he did not bat an eyelid.
This was before things changed and many leftists changed with them. Her husband reverted to his primary instincts, separated from his wife, and abandoned her after “discovering” she was a Christian and that their marriage was null and void.
They had already had three children: Rami (the director), Riyam, and Rima.
This is where Rami begins to criticize the Left in its widest sense, as represented by the “National Movement,” which counted among its ranks parties which later proved to be sectarian and isolationist.
From this point, the film launches into a critical look into the atmosphere in which Nawal and her children lived after the end of the civil war.
National resistance turned religious. Nawal does not hide her sympathy for the resistance or her support for them and their choices, particularly during the war. She says that she cannot be neutral in a war between Hezbollah and Israel.
Furthermore, she cannot find a middle ground to stand on between sectarianism and secularism. This shows that this Christian woman — rejected by her own family, who refuse to allow her to be buried among them — still holds to principles which have long been discarded by those who claim to be the “keepers of the cause.”
The film is a joint production between Nihawi himself and Umam for Documentation and Research. But it stands out from other films recording memories which have also been supported by Umam.
Yamo does not tackle a big cause. It does not call on us to look into anything but a very personal memory, even though this memory envelops the whole country.
Nihawi never claimed he wanted to write the history of the entire nation. He did not want to do what others had done, and try and solve the problem from the top of the pyramid, like Hady Zaccak did in The War of Peace.
Nihawi approached the problem through daily events. He just wanted to understand the changes that took place in his own life through a spontaneous film. This is why his style as a director appears so unselfconscious, sometimes to the point of recklessness.
The film is very chaotic. There is chaos in the way the scenes are cut and even in their content. One scene with his brother in their very chaotic house is repeated. He succeeds in bringing the chaos of ideas to the scenes. The chaos even spreads to the filming, with some scenes in black and white and others in color.
His footage and camera frames have an aesthetic dimension that breaks the monotony of the script, which Rami narrates in a voiceover.
Yamo succeeds in making its point. It is yet another link in the documenting of lost memories. The story of Lebanon’s civil war will not be complete without similar records of history through personal statements and experiences.
Yamo by Rami Nihawi, Metropolis Empire Sofil (Ashrafieh, Beirut). For information: 01/204080.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.