YIDFF 2023 New Asian Currents

A Lost Heart and Other Dreams of Beirut
Maya Abdul-Malak (Director)

Interviewer: Erikawa Ken

About the director and her filmography

Erikawa Ken (EK): First, let me share my impressions of the film. I think that because the camera does not move much and stares at the subject, it has the effect of emphasizing to the viewer the inner self-reflection and introspection that is the focus of the film. It also left lingering emotions afterwards, which I found very pleasing.

Maya Abdul-Malak (MA): Thank you.

EK: Do you live in France now?

MA: I move back and forth between two countries, Lebanon and France. Recently I feel more rooted in France, but I still visit Lebanon several times a year.

EK: I have seen your second film, Standing Men, which was awarded the Ogawa Shinsuke Prize at YIDFF 2015, but not your first film, In the Land That Is Like You (2010). Could you tell me about it?

MA: In the Land That Is Like You is a film I made upon my return to Lebanon, as a way of self-direction, so to speak. Specifically, through my interactions with three people—my mother, my grandmother and the man I loved at the time—I was recovering my almost forgotten ties to my motherland and my childhood, which was also the time of the Lebanese Civil War. It is a very private and intimate film, in which I am recovering memories and acquiring a story of my own.

About the dreams in the film

EK: Then in the third film, A Lost Heart and Other Dreams of Beirut, the narration of one man and two women recounting their dreams is overlaid on the footage, and the people telling us their dreams do not appear on screen.

MA: Exactly. The idea was there from the beginning: the person who is talking about the dream does not appear on the screen, but between the other people on the screen—in other words, between the sound and the image—a kind of echo or resonant relationship is formed, so that the dream being told could be the dream of the people you are seeing.

EK: Are the dreams being described really the dreams that these three people saw?

MA: To be honest, there is a bit of fiction work involved. This is because, while I collected dreams from many people, I wanted them to be related to death, so I prepared my own script about dreams of the dead (ghosts and spirits). In the end, I did not use that script, but I still think that the presence of ghosts and spirits could be felt throughout the dreams, as they were mixed in and reconstructed with the dreams I collected as documentary elements.

EK: Was there a script for the dreams the three people are narrating?

MA: I think you could say so. Over the course of about two years, I collected various dreams, and out of them I created three people who talk about dreams. A man whose son has gone missing in the civil war, a Palestinian woman living in a refugee camp, and a woman of my generation.

EK: The dreams are heart-wrenching and poignant, such as being shot in the head, a massacre, a grandmother who dies in a bombing, or even one where someone blows themselves up.

MA: You could call them nightmares. Nevertheless, I described dreams linked to such heartbreaking memories that are part of Beirut’s history, so that they can be told with tenderness and in a light-filled way. Despite its tragic past, Beirut today is a lively, bright city.

EK: Could we assume that those dreams include such things as the Lebanese Civil War, the Israeli military invasion, and the 2020 Beirut Explosion (on August 4, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the Port of Beirut exploded, killing over 220 people and injuring over 7,000)?

MA: That’s certainly right. I wanted to tell the story of this city through dreams. The city itself is haunted by memories of the violent civil war and the relentless Israeli attacks that have not faded.

EK: You mean that such memories are embedded in the minds of people living in the seemingly peaceful city of Beirut and they are hard to erase.

MA: Moreover, I wonder if we are truly at peace now.

EK: That’s what I was trying to get at.

MA: Even though there is no direct armed conflict within Lebanon at the moment, the Middle East as a whole is not at peace because there is always some dispute in the region. Lebanon is also experiencing a serious economic crisis. And I wanted to say that tragic events repeat themselves. In the dreams in the film, a Palestinian refugee woman experienced the Israeli army crossing the border and invading Lebanon in 1982, and there is a woman of my generation who talks about the Israeli attack in 2006. So, one of the themes of this film is that the same things happen over and over again. I think it also answers the question, “Are we really at peace now?”

The characters

EK: If I may ask about the details, in the seaside scene near the beginning, there is a well-built, bearded man and a young man in a cute, feather-patterned shirt. What is the relationship between those two?

MA: It is a completely documentary part, so we don’t know the relationship between the two, but I hope the audience will see it in relation to the voiceover narration. I mean, you can guess the younger one might be the missing son in the story, or that some such projection is taking place. Another thing is that Beirut is a very beautiful, bright city, but simultaneously it has a dark history behind it all the time. In other words, the scene itself is bright and gentle, but it speaks about the darkness of the past, and I wanted to express a certain kind of contradiction or contrast.

EK: That scene is followed by a narrow, intricate alleyway scene.

MA: That’s Shatila, where the massacre took place (the Sabra and Shatila Massacre).

EK: There are a lot of posters of people in those alleys—who are those people?

MA: Arafat, of course. And posters of people who died in refugee camps.

EK: In the latter half of the film, there are a series of drawings of people’s faces on the wall—how about those people?

MA: Those are the people who died in the 2020 Beirut Explosion at the port. They are commemorated in that way in a square in the center of Beirut. The two examples you just gave are not directly related, but it was interesting that you linked them together, which means there are images of the faces of the dead all over the place in the city. So sometimes when you live in Beirut, you don’t know who is alive and who is dead.

EK: There is a man who goes back and forth in front of those drawings of the dead—what kind of man is he?

MA: Actually, he is a security guard. That was also a kind of documentary luck, because when I went to that wall, he happened to be there and I was allowed to shoot him. At the time, I didn’t know myself that the image would fit so well with the narration of the dream.

EK: He has a very deep look on his face and I had the impression that a bereaved man was walking pensively.

MA: He does, so during the editing process we called him the “guardian of the dead.”

EK: I guess you must have shot quite a lot, because the narration and the visuals of each scene corresponded perfectly to each other.

MA: We spent years preparing for it, but it took us only about four days for shooting. If you felt that way, it was probably a result of the editing. After all the shooting was done, we had the text of the dreams read out for recording, and then we adapted them to the images.

EK: Did you join the editing process?

MA: Of course I did, in consultation with Adrian Fosch, the editor.

EK: There are two more people I’m interested in (laughs). There is an elderly woman smoking a water pipe on a really peaceful-looking beach. Was she also there by chance?

MA: In her case, it was a bit staged. She was there when I first went to the beach and I asked her if she could come again, and she did. The rest of the people all happened to be there on the day of the shooting.

EK: And my favorite scene of all, at the party where everyone is dancing, there is a young woman who comes into focus at the end. She has a very nice smile and looks like an actress, but isn’t that also staged?

MA: I just shot that scene with the permission of the party organizers. They were people I had never met before.

EK: Her smile was truly beautiful and touching, as the characters up to that point had hardly ever smiled, and I couldn’t help but wish the smile would last forever.

MA: I’m glad if that came across. The scene is an explosion of joie de vivre and happiness.

Impact of the last scene

EK: Finally, the last scene, the balloon seller comes from afar, then leaves, and the night view of Beirut unfolds. As I said at the beginning, I was impressed by this wonderful ending, with a lingering and lyrical aftertaste.

MA: I had an intuition that the entire film would be better ending like a dream. So, it should end at night, like the end of a day.

EK: I’ve never heard electronic sounds coming from balloons before.

MA: That was created by sound editing.

EK: Really?

MA: The film’s sound was actually very elaborately made. The sounds inside the bus, from the radio, etc.

EK: I was not aware of that at all.

MA: For sound editors Josefina Rodriguez and Emmanuelle Crosset, that would be the ultimate compliment.

EK: Lastly, is there anything you would like to say to those listening?

MA: What is important to me as a director is that this film is not meant to be understood by people who already know about Lebanon or Beirut.

EK: It struck a chord with me even though I was ignorant, so I think it is no problem in that respect. It was a great film. Thank you very much.

Compiled by Erikawa Ken
Translated by Kae Ishihara

Photography: Sato Hiroaki / Video: Kusunose Kaori / Interpreter: Fujiwara Toshi / 2023-10-06

Erikawa Ken
Editor and movie theater executive. After working for Film Art, Inc., Erikawa became a freelance editor. He authored Osaka aikan scrap (Edishon Kaie, 1989). Having been an editor of Eiga shinbun for over ten years, he took part in the launch of a citizen-run theater, Cine Nouveau. In 2005–2016 he was involved in the Osaka Asian Film Festival. He was Chief Editor of Daily Bulletin for the first and second editions of the YIDFF and served as a juror for the YIDFF: New Asian Currents in 2019.