Short Film Review: Manara

Year: 2019
Runtime: 15 Minutes
Director: Zayn Alexander
Writer: Pascale Seigneurie
Stars: Zayn Alexander, Hala Basma Safieddine, Pascale Seigneurie

By Bianca Garner

The word “Manara” means lighthouse in Arabic. Zayn Alexander‘s short film “Manara” takes place in a Lighthouse, following a family as they try to deal with the loss of their patriarch. The purpose of a Lighthouse is to offer light and guidence to us, so we can somehow navigate of way through rough waters. With “Manara” Alexander proposes the question: what happens when that light has become extinguished? What happens to those who now find themselves plunged into darkness, and now completely blind? How do we find hope when the very light that once offered us guidence has now been cruelly snatched away?

Often the strongest of short films centre around a simple premise which is carefully executed. “Manara” is a perfect example of how to carefully construct a short film narrative and Alexander along with writer Pascale Seigneurie manage to weave together a story which feels so real and genuine that we forget we are watching a film. The filmmakers come from a place of good intentions, according to the directors satement “”Manara” began from a deep-rooted frustration and angst with a culture that is obsessed with appearances.” As someone who has personally lost a loved-one because of suicide, I found the film incredibly impactful and emotional without being too maniuplitive or the subject matter being treated too heavy handed.

Manara: Hala Basma Safieddine, Zayn Alexander, Pascale Seigneurie
Hala Basma Safieddine, Zayn Alexander, & Pascale Seigneurie in “Manara” (2019)

The film starts off with the mother Alia (Hala Basma Safieddine) instructing her two adult children on what story they need to tell about their father’s passing. Although, it is never formally said in direct terms, it’s clear that their father has taken his life. However, the mother is keen to keep up appearances. If anyone asks, he went swimming and drowned after suffering from a heart attack. We never know the reason why their father took his life, and according to official statstics only 25-30% of suicides are accompained by a note. More often than not, we are left with very few answers.

“Manara” is a perfect example of how to carefully construct a short film narrative and Alexander along with writer Pascale Seigneurie manage to weave together a story which feels so real and genuine that we forget we are watching a film”

As the family begin to prepare for the wake, it becomes evident that the death of their patriarch has affected them all in different ways. The son Rami (played by director Zayn Alexander) tries to cope with the loss by praying, only to become distracted by his sister Noura (played by the film’s writer Pascale Seigneurie). Noura appears to have been deeply affected by the loss of her father, demonstrating the most obvious signs of grief. However, their mother appears strangely calm, and Rami accuses her of not caring and forcing them all to lie about what has actually occured.

Manara Hala and Zayn
Hala Basma Safieddine & Zayn Alexander in “Manara” (2019)

While the story feels a little too familiar and safe in places, our attention is maintained throughout by the three actors’ performances. The emotions on display here all demonstrate the characters’ personalities. Rami is trying to portray a rational, level-headed approach to the incident. While Noura is struggling to contain her emotions. Alia is trying hard to downplay the incident and maintain appearances. Her biggest fear is the gossip from those outside. There’s a rawness to each actors’ performance as they wonderfuly capture the different stages of grief in a very subtle manner.

“Just over 15 minutes in its runtime, the film opens with the peaceful sounds of waves crashing on the shore, the sombre and moving score by composer Simon Taufique beautifully compliments the film’s sound design by Haitham Atme.”

My only real criticism of the film (if you can call it a criticism) is that the film has a very short runtime.  It would be interesting to see this story be evolved into a feature-length film, as the characters are all very complex and well-developed. It is also worth watching this film more than once, as the opening scene can be a little confusing to follow on a first watch.

This is Alexander’s second film, and “Manara” debuted during at the 76th Venice Film Festival in the Giornate degli Autori section. Just over 15 minutes in its runtime, the film opens with the peaceful sounds of waves crashing on the shore, the sombre and moving score by composer Simon Taufique beautifully compliments the film’s sound design by Haitham Atme. Throughout the film, sound is expertly used to create tension and to heighten the atmosphere. The sound of the sea outside the family’s lighthouse acts as a constant reminder of the family’s loss. The sound of a plastic bag containing the father’s shirt being zipped up is loud and distracts the son from his praying. The sounds of the daughter’s gasping sobs eeriely remind us of those belonging to someone drowning.

Manara shot
Zayn Alexander, Hala Basma Safieddine, & Pascale Seigneurie in “Manara” (2019)

The film is beautifully captured by cinematographer Aron Meinhardt who uses close-ups to create a sense of claustrophobia as we mainly see the events of the film taking place in the confines of the family’s home. And with Stephanie Nassar‘s editing, the film slowly builds on tension until the family can no longer control their emotions. Alexander ends his film with the sobering statement: “Close to 800,000 people die from suicide a year. In Lebanon at least one person dies from suicide every 3 days.” Overall, “Manara” is a compelling and well-crafted film which beautifully captures the emotional impact of losing a loved one to suicide, and is a film I highly recommend.

The film’s trailer can be found here.

5 stars

 

 

 

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