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In ‘Semaan Bilda’ia’, a Glimpse at Peace

Semaan Bilda’ia / The One Man Village (Simon El Habre, Lebanon) (European Premiere)
Berlinale 2009, Forum
Saturday, February 5
Read the Forum synopsis

What do I know about the Lebanese civil war? Nothing. Simon El Habre introduces us to his 50-year-old uncle Semaan, who has left the city to return to their family village. Semaan bey, his animals, his visitors, and the land itself speak to us of otherwise unspeakable hardship, grief, and the possibility of beauty and peace in our world.

We meet Semaan’s cats, cows, chickens, horses, and join him in making sunrise coffee and an Easter meal. He has made a comfortable, simple home amid the ruins of his ancestors’ village. “The city bored me with all its crowdedness and pollution.” The cows. “I milk them in the morning and feed them at noon and at night, and distribute my milk. When I want to rest, I do.”

Every animal is an individual. Hanouni, who is calm and caring. Raisa, who is smart and stubborn.

When Semaan sings folksongs, it is like a call to prayer. The beautiful, rugged valley landscape needs voices like it needs water and cultivation. The village is a photographer’s dream. Semaan’s white horse runs down the road in twilight, free, and returns home.

In a way, film is a poor medium for depicting farm life. The smells, touch, temperature are gone. But the images and sounds are there. The film is a success.

The dead. “I miss them. I miss their kindness.”

Simon El Habre shows us a man living in beauty, in peace with his former enemies. We have a chance, if we listen to stories like this one.

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