In a small neighborhood of a traditional Lebanese coastal town, Leba (Georges Khabbaz), a music instructor, marries his childhood sweetheart Lara. To the dismay of his family, neighbors, and friends, he has a first baby girl and then a second one. Lara is pregnant for the third time, and yes, it's a BOY! However, medical tests show that the boy will have special needs. Will Leba and Lara keep the baby? Will little Ghadi become a burden on the family, or will he be its pride and joy? Expect strange phenomena to affect the behavior and beliefs of that little town's population. Written by
A film that is absolutely brimming with heart, director Amin Dora's Ghadi (2013) is a delight to both the eyes and the spirit. It tells the story of El Mshakkal, a gossipy little Lebanese village, through the detailed flashbacks and narrative of its resident music teacher, Leba. Growing up in this small community, where everyone is in everyone else's business, Leba is exceedingly familiar with the community members' quirks and shortcomings. There's Elias the barber, who cunningly pretends he doesn't charge far too much for his haircuts. Elias the butcher sneaks just a little too much fat into his high-priced lean minced meats. A statue of Saint Elias, El Mshakkal's patron saint, watches from atop a church over the village where half of the residents are aptly named Elias in reverence and so hilariously respond in unison when the name is called out. These charmingly idiosyncratic details contribute to exceptional character foundations for a notably large cast that will eventually build on each individual seamlessly. The casting is exquisite, each actor fitting superbly into their role for an awesome ensemble and begetting flawless character development. Writer and actor Georges Khabbaz as Leba is splendidly unassuming, subtly reactive, and easily relatable. When Leba and his childhood sweetheart wife Lara become the parents of a boy with special needs who wails melodically from a window overlooking El Mshakkal's main street, the whole town is in an uproar. To avoid having to send away his beloved son at the behest of the townspeople, Leba devises a plan that taps into the collective superstition of his deeply Catholic neighbors: to convince them that Ghadi is an angel who wails when they err.
This is Dora's full feature debut and proves that he is definitely a directorial force to keep an eye on. Rich, earthy tones gives way to celestial colors that glow with lots of luminous whites as the film develops its angelic story. The setting is quaint, rustic, and clean giving a warmth and candor to this film that suits its storyline perfectly. Khabbaz's screenplay is character focused, which again is fantastic, yet left the dramatic curve of the film overall just a touch lacking. Viewers feared very little that Leba and his cohorts would be caught in their trickery, as the film was more focused on the successes than the threats, on helping and bridging rather than tearing down or apart. The ultimate point of this story is one of goodness, connectivity, and inclusivity. I would liked to have seen even more development of Ghadi and his relationship to his family to give more weight to the appropriately taken- for-granted value of his existence and his place in the family. It seemed this element was somewhat lost as the scheme to keep him at home progressed and the message of community support took overt precedence. Yet, I would have watched these lovely people and lived as a fly on the wall in this charming world forever, so the slight shortfall of dramatic crescendo easily takes a back seat to the overall visually enthralling, richly developed, thoroughly heartwarming movie as a whole.
Ghadi is a sweet story that is a pleasure to watch and whose effect is both humorous and uplifting. It presents a unique vision with enough of that familiar quality of home to make contact with almost anyone. It's invigorating to see such evident talent and relatability finding its way into Lebanese film. I'm excitedly looking forward to what other sorts of novel story lines and richly endearing worlds Georges Khabbaz and Amin Dora will create for us in the future. If you're looking for an engaging and heartening journey to a far away place that is sentimentally rooted in home and community, look no farther than the beaming, ethereal world of Ghadi.
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