(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

!العمل… — … Action!

Abu Dhabi Film Festival: Part Two
Read Abu Dhabi Film Festival: Part One

There are many different ways to be the same.  People in Islamabad are just like you, the movie Slackistan says — lazy, apathetic, directionless.  Why fight? Look how Western we are!  

Considering I’d left work at noon for popcorn and the movies, this was more than fair. Touché, Pakistan.

The next evening at the Emirates Palace Hotel, an Indian film showed in cultural compliment, this one about the stalwart spirit of one man… to mate his goat. Virgin Goat takes us all on a journey through backcountry Indian prisons, poverty and family feud, and caprine acid trip nightmares — all without the help of Steve Carrell or Judd Apatow.

Immediately after, and with Burger King in hand, I squeezed into the last showing of Chico & Rita.  The animated romance was a real culture shock — the Festival transported us from the land of chaste bovids to a place where mammals have, shall we say, a much different disposition: Cuba in the time of swing and bebop.  We watch a Cuban singer and pianist fall in love, separate and be separated by New York, and listen to Dizzy, Bird, and Chano Pozo all the way through. It’s just like The Pianist if 1942 Poland were a Cohiba cigar.

The next afternoon, I sat through the beautifully boring film Gesher, which chronicles a week (a month? a year?) in the lives of poor Iranian laborers in the Gulf, who perform unspeakable tasks and sleep at night in empty pipes pointed out into the sea.  Well, don’t we all have days like that.  Ten-minute cuts
make the film feel like you’re watching still photos shift in place (read: nap time) and yet you sit watching, waiting for something to happen, maybe for the characters’ sake, maybe for your own.

The following night, in the national theater no cabbie can find, the Festival screened the newly discovered extended edition of Metropolis, arguably
the world’s first (and oh so German) science fiction film. The founder of the metropolis ruled absolutely with his son, groomed and at the ready. Just like Abu Dhabi. His sparkling new city boasted culture, gadgetry, and huge populations in giant buildings. Just like Abu Dhabi. Under the buildings lived a subclass of human being, ignored and left to live in unlivable conditions. I didn’t say anything.

I stayed put in the same theater to watch The Furious Force of Rhymes, which circled (most of) the globe in homage to the power of hip-hop. From New York to Saint-Denis to East Berlin to Dakar, MCs flowed and spat verse about the life of the underclass. Fifty years later, the Workers’ City of Metropolis would have shook with rhymes. Fifty years from now, Abu Dhabi might, too.

Trying to plan in the world of possibility.

Ironically, on the weekends when I had the free time, I was less faithful to the cinema. I made it only to four short films (half a screening). One, Three Minute Tree, enlightened the audience with three one-minute clips of three different trees. Yes, well. Hmm. Another chronicled the bizarre and Swedish friendship of a stop-animation fox and rabbit both named Tord. Who said all Sweden had was IKEA.

And still, I was committed to see Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, solely because of its description in the blurb as a “lavish historical whodunit” about seventh century China and spontaneous combustion (of people). It goes without saying that there were martial arts, flying killer robots, and talking deer. I shan’t say more.

The Film Festival forces action, if only to buy tickets and sit in plush seats. But that’s a lot of what action is round these parts.

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