A Beirut of blown out windows

BEIRUT: Stillness and rebirth make for a thoughtful testimony to the aftermath of the powerful Beirut explosion.

When Lebanese filmmaker Karim Kassem arrived back in Beirut, where he grew up, to work on a new film, his plans were bent out of shape by the massive port explosion of August 2020. He set about documenting its aftermath, in what became Octopus, world premiering at IDFA. There is next to no factual analysis in a film that says much with scarce dialogue, poetically registering the mood of a nation that had already been pushed to the brink of desperation long before the catastrophe by a political climate of entrenched, seemingly bottomless corruption. It is a wise approach from the director, who intimates that there are no sufficient words for the horror.

Octopus, a film by Karim Kassem
Octopus, a film by Karim Kassem

Just one ledge…

Given space to make my own sense of the images of widespread destruction, a famous speech by former Czech dissident (and later president) Vaclav Havel from the 1960s, published in essay form as On Evasive Thinking, came into my mind, in which he discusses the public outrage that erupted when a stone window ledge, insufficiently maintained by a negligent regime in power, fell from a building and killed a woman on the Prague street below. A magazine columnist had written that the public should not scrutinise such specific, local, and petty events. Instead, it should focus on the wider achievements of the state — and Havel offered a blistering rebuke as to why the basic rights of citizens not to be killed while walking around the city is precisely the point of any government and should not be glossed over by pseudo-ideological rhetoric aimed at quashing the ability of citizens to influence . . .

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Carmen Gray
Freelance film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
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