Director: Bassam Al-Thawadi
Bahrain is the first Middle-Eastern country on my list, unless your definition of “Middle-East” is loose enough to include Afghanistan, which mine isn’t. As with several other countries in the region, the film industry in Bahrain suffers from a lack of funding. Neither the government nor the private sector have offered much support to aspiring Bahraini filmmakers, so there are only five feature films in the country’s history, three of which are directed by Bassam Al-Thawadi.
The one I was able to get my hands on for this entry is Al-Thawadi’s third film, A Bahraini Tale. Set during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, which famously lasted a mere six days, the film focuses on the personal lives of a middle-class Bahraini family. The action is therefore split between several interconnecting storylines. These include the childish hijinks of the youngest son, Khalifa, and a forbidden romance between his older sister Fatima and her lover Hamad. The star-crossed lovers are something we’ve all seen before, even several times on this blog, but the film’s unique insights into womens’ rights in mid-twentieth-century Bahrain add some interest to an otherwise tired trope.
Stylistically, there’s a lot to admire. The cinematography has plenty of invention and flair, making even run-down buildings and dry, washed-out landscapes look vibrant and interesting with plenty of character and detail in every frame. The musical score is also very effective. The acting, however, is quite melodramatic, which I suspect is the result of Bollywood’s influence on Arab filmmaking. There are a great many sustained close-ups of women crying, for example.
A Bahraini Tale is very much a slice-of-life film, rather than a plot-driven one. As is evident from its title, all it’s trying to do is provide a snapshot of Bahraini life – simply capturing a moment in time.
Like my previous entries The Patience Stone and Rachida, A Bahraini Tale is a war film without the war. The ongoing conflict is distant and abstract, never depicted onscreen, but nonetheless informs the characters’ lives, attitudes, and relationships. The lack of an overarching narrative other than the war, however, causes the film to drag at certain points. For some, A Bahraini Tale might prove unsatisfying and obtuse. Made in a country with so few resources available, however, its triumphs are hard to dismiss.