Festival Films, critic’s pick: Syria’s ‘Once Again’

Winner of many awards including Best Arab Film at 2009’s Damascus Film Festival, the Syrian film “Once Again” is the feature debut from writer-director Joud Said. It was recently screened at both the Abu Dhabi and Carthage Festivals before making its Egyptian premiere as part of the  the Arab Competition in the Cairo International Film Festival.

In the pivotal, tone-setting early scenes, a mysterious sniper, played by the filmmaker in a cameo appearance, kills a Syrian woman in Lebanon. Her husband, a high-ranking officer in the Syrian army who is stationed in Lebanon during the civil war, relies on one of his colleagues (played by famous Syrian filmmaker Abdel-Latif Abdel-Hamid) to take care of their only son, Majd. But when a stray bullet hits Majd in the head, the young child goes into a deep coma which lasts until his adolescence.

Flash-forward to contemporary Damascus, an adult Majd (Qays Cheikh Najib) is now happily engaged to Kinda (Kinda Allouche), a fellow employee at the Lebanese bank where he works as an IT expert. Joyce (Pierrete Katrib), a beautiful Lebanese woman, has recently been transferred to this branch and becomes the new object of obsession for Majd.

The two grow closer but, without her knowing, Majd has been hacking Joyce’s Internet calls to her family back in Lebanon. He discovers that Joyce has many scars from past wars, like his own. Her father was also assassinated few years ago, perhaps by Syrians. On the eve of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July 2006, all roads heading to Beirut are blocked but Majd decides to help Joyce rejoin her family.  

Joud Said carefully navigates the critical sociopolitical relation between Syrian and Lebanon. His two main protagonists symbolize the potentially brighter future between the two Arab people once past wounds are healed. In the love triangle played by the three leads, the Lebanese Pierrete Katrib delivers the best performance.

The filmmaker successfully navigates Syrian censors and realistically portrays the politics of the army and the war (80 percent of his original script found its way to the screen). Flashbacks to the Syrian army in Lebanon imply the aim of Syrians of preventing the Israelis from taking over Lebanese lands as well. The movie presents its controversial subject with intelligence and sensitivity.

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