Bosta is being screened as part of Safar: A Journey Through Popular Arab Cinema, an ambitious programme of popular Arab film showing at the ICA, London from 21st September 2012.
A Lebanese take on Glee, Bosta offers a light-hearted look into life in the war torn country. A musical which focuses on themes common to us all, it offers some gorgeous imagery of Lebanon, a country of immense natural beauty. Unfortunately, the film suffers from being overly long, made all the more evident by the predictability of the storyline and the uneven performances of many of the cast.
The film tells the tale of Kamal Maf’ouss (Rodney El Haddad) who returns home to Lebanon after fifteen years in France where he has become a composer and choreographer following his nationalisation. Assembling a group of former classmates, who were part of a multicultural school run by Kamal’s father, he attempts to bring a modernised form of the traditional Lebanese dance Debka to Labanon’s annual choral-dance festival.
However, the modernisation, which mixes the traditional with influences from hip-hop and techno is not well received by the older, more conservative judges, leading to the group’s expulsion from the contest. Determined to bring his vision to a wider audience, Kamal begins a journey around Lebanon on a school bus to perform with a documentary news crew in tow. While the act gets a mixed reception, the group’s journey is complicated further by family and friends issues endured along the way…
Bosta was Lebanon’s biggest selling movie in 2006 and was the official Lebanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film in the year’s Academy Awards. The core focus of the film is on the clash of the traditional and the modern and how the two are currently striving for their place in Lebanese society. Such discussion and uncertainty is made all the more poignant by the fact that this is a country which has been hit so heavily by war throughout much of the past half century over religious and cultural divides. While the presentation and outline of the film holds many similarities to a Lebanese version of Glee, the stakes are more marked and impactful as it explores many different themes which will resonate with an audience of any nationality. These include national and personal identity, young adults’ relationships with their parents, romantic relations and the past against the present and future.
The songs within the film are upbeat and catchy and, in true musical style, succeed in driving along the story.
As well as a compelling cultural backdrop, viewers are treated to some spectacular visions of the beauty of Lebanon, something many would not have been aware of if their vision of the country is limited to news coverage. Rugged hills and mountains, quaint villages and beautiful countryside are all on display in scenes which could easily have been borrowed from a Lebanon tourist video. Landmarks hint at the country’s history of war, although this is in sharp contrast to the image of a very welcoming and happy people. It says a lot for the natural beauty evident in Lebanon that this is captured with little more than basic cinematography.
The songs within the film are upbeat and catchy and, in true musical style, succeed in driving along the story. The music is also in-keeping with the mixture of classic and traditional beats, with many of the tracks composed by Afro Celt Sound System, widely considered as something of a world music supergroup who specialise in mixing contrasting musical styles from around the globe and feature a wide range of guest artists on their albums.
Sadly, less impressive is the over use of the melodramatic score which is played almost constantly throughout the movie. As well as being a distraction, and nowhere near as engaging as the music in the rest of the film, the sad tone is often in contrast to the action on screen and undermines some of the comedic exchanges.
Perhaps not overly surprising for a musical, the plotline is far from original with the direction of the film quite clear from the opening ten minutes. Character exposition is limited, the focus instead being on driving the narrative forwards. The problem being that there is little scope to build much of a connection with the main cast with little more than superficial insight into their problems or challenges.
This is perhaps hindered by the performances of the lead actors. Amongst the better performers is Nadine Labaki as Alia, the love-interest who was both believable and a lot more balanced within the role than many others. With evident acting ability, she is also blessed with a beautiful singing voice, thus it comes as little surprise to see she has gone on to bigger and better things, including a role in the 2011 film Where Do We Go Now? which became Lebanon’s highest ever grossing film. Unfortunately, Raya Meddine’s Isabelle aside, the remainder of the cast produce some rather uneven performances.
Bosta is a tough film to judge, with the underlying situation in the country and the backdrop to the story arguably more interesting than the unfolding plot. While the themes are universal and thus easily accessible, there is an evident lack of original storytelling meaning Bosta is a predictable watch. Lebanese viewers will undoubtedly find much to relate to and enjoy in the film and it is true that it provides an degree of escapism along with an insight into life in the country; however, it is let down by its length, predictability and the lack of quality acting performances which will ultimately limit its appeal to a wider audience.
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