Talking Movies

September 8, 2015

El Dschihad

My sometime co-scriptwriter Emmet Ryan has, in an unusual move, taken time out from reviewing beer and customised burgers to catch a play in Berlin. From Ballhaus Naunynstrasse he sends this review of El Dschihad:

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German-Iraqi actress/writer/director Claudia Basrawi takes 70 minutes of her audience’s lives and throws them into a story built around facts but delivered with aggressive and compelling storytelling. The story of El Dschihad is built around interviews Basrawi conducted to get an understanding of Germany’s historical role in the current problems in the Middle East. Basrawi, whose youth brought her to Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, tells the story of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s efforts to get Muslim subjects of the British Empire to rise up against their colonial masters during the First World War. Germany’s ill-fated plan was to use an insurrection in Arab states to divide the attention of British forces.

The piece jumps between discussions of contemporary efforts to battle terrorism and the historical follies of the Kaiser. Despite its documentary format this is very much a drama, albeit a deliberately disjointed one. Despite being the effective lead, Basrawi deliberately takes a back seat instead essentially letting her cast, playing a multitude of roles, take their lead from her cues.

No-one makes greater use of this than Rahel Savoldelli, who is brutally intimidating in multiple formats. Savoldelli’s appearances in the multimedia elements of the performance are nothing less than an attack on the audience. Opening with her interview as a psychiatric patient of Mario Mentrup, acted live in a corner off-stage but broadcast on a larger screen, Savoldelli is aggressive in her deliberate attempts to confuse Mentrup’s supposed straight man. Mentrup does an excellent job in playing the foils to those opposite him, most notably in his primary role as Mr S, a composite character of multiple interviewees of Basrawi, where his character is more direct with his emotions in order to make the cold reality of Elmira Bahrami’s Ms K stand out.

One isn’t meant to like Ms K; she’s got too many right answers, and most of them are ugly; but her calm delivery is arguably as tough on the senses as the intensity of Savoldelli’s pre-recorded piece, reading notes on the plan to convert British POWs into agents of insurgence against the Crown. In this brief but effective monologue, Savoldelli’s head appears like Big Brother albeit with the odd harsh cut to rouse the audience as she details the plans to use Mohammedans against the British Empire.

The mixture of multimedia elements, including an opening that shows contemporary damage to an unnamed city in the Middle East, forces the audience to shift focus but not at the expense of the message. Basrawi is trying to comment on a complex issue from afar, but one that is close to her heart, and does so in a way that doesn’t play as excessively preachy. It’s a tough balance but one delivered well.

4/5

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September 3, 2010

They Call Me Mister Screen…

So, much to my surprise, my team again won the Screen Cinema Film Quiz and its prize of a free private screening in the cinema – but the film to be finished by 2pm.

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I arrived back from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at about 9:00am on the morning of the quiz and was battling the jet-lag of the damned when I staggered in to Doyle’s pub at 7:20pm (being 2:20am KL time which I was still on) to discover that Pete Moles had been replaced in the team by Emmet Ryan at the last minute as a result of a mishap with public transport. So 4/5ths of the line-up that won the quiz back in June was ready to fight again. Emmet brought to the table a deep love of bombastic action movies and sports movies, Paul Fennessy brought an encyclopaedic familiarity with art-house and foreign films, James Ward brought knowledge of the arcane lore of Shakespeare and The Lion King amidst other specialities, Dave Neary brought mental lists of Oscar nominations and foreign film titles, and I brought an extremely frazzled version of the fergalMDB. We sallied forth under the gloriously entertaining (to us at any rate) team-name Roland Emmerich’s DEATH in Venice, a remake that would make half the world’s critics kill themselves on general principles, and one which we exulted in coming up with insane plot-points for between rounds. Indeed James won two spot-prizes for his absurd/inspired doodling of promotional posters for this dream/nightmare project. All together now in that deep American trailer voice: “Godzilla is back, and he wants his 327,000 lbs of flesh”.

The quiz had not only changed venue from MacTurcaills but had also been re-imagined from the previous time with the purpose of thwarting our victory by ditching the rounds we had got perfect scores in last time: quotes from films, matching actors to roles and roles to actors, naming foreign films from their original titles. I was confident of getting trounced even before we started and ironically this feeling only increased when I noticed that Donald Clarke’s dream-team of film critics were absent. Hilariously enough though we scored perfectly respectably in the rom-com round designed to cripple us, instead suffering dismal failures in a movie music round and the cult film round where I somehow subconsciously remembered approximately how long Donnie Darko was told by Frank he had till the end of the world, but got it wrong by one frickin’ minute (It’s 28 days, 6 hours, and 42 minutes, not 28 days, 6 hours, and 43 minutes). But we triumphantly scored 17/18 in the brain-freezing round devised by the Sunday Business Post’s film critic John Maguire, who rendered 1940s films without vowels and then misleadingly spaced the consonants: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp as ‘THLFNDDTHFCLNLBLMP’, and, yeah…

We started off around 6th place, but slowly crawled up the leader-board thanks to miracles like Dave remembering the name of the creator of the replicants in Blade Runner, the man who headed an eponymous corporation, he looks like Lou Reed and has his eyes gouged out by Rutger Hauer, and his name is, is, is…Tyrell! But there was an insurmountable gap between us and the leaders even as we somehow bludgeoned our way into second place. So we were cackling at the prospect of multiple free films comprising season tickets for either the second 1980s season or the first 1990s season, the prize for second place, when to our astonishment we weren’t named in third or second place. We were wondering what questions we could have blown in the final round to slip into fourth when to our genuine shock we discovered that we had won it again – tying with the leaders who imploded in the final round. So we jointly won, having never led at any point, and also took the trophy, bobble-headed Frodo, on a tie-breaker, and as successful defenders of our title.

Now let’s see which of us joint champions can retain the title next time…

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