QUICK SNAP : LIVE FROM THE RED SEA
There are no words scarier in the language at the moment that those two you hear frequently at film festivals: lockdown movie. And so it was with a heavy tread that I made my way to the El Balad cinema 1 to see the Tunisian film Communion (Qorban), which promised an hour and a half accompanying a married couple through their lockdown experience. In reality, Communion is at once a funny and terrifying piece of work.
Written, directed and starring Nejib Belkadhi, Blekadhi plays Kais a driver who finds himself at home furloughed from his job as a driver. His wife Sara (Souhir Ben Amara) is a social worker who is desperately trying to keep her vulnerable charges from being kicked out onto the street in the middle of the pandemic. It soon becomes apparent that her duty of care extends to her husband who is prone to psychotic episodes and must take his medication, though he’s beginning to run out.
At first, Kais is obsessively intent on cleaning and protecting himself and Sara from the virus: boiling his clothes and bleaching everything. But as time goes on and the drugs begin to wear off, Sara’s duty of care begins to extend to her addled husband who is becoming increasingly paranoid and violent. Initially, the film feels like a comedy. Kais is an amenable schlub whose mania is full of comic exaggeration and there’s something imminently relatable in his fluctuating panic. He’s also quite likable and he and Sara have a rapport and an affection for each other that’s obviously stood the test of time. So far. However, as huge coronavirus shaped entities appear in the sky and voices start threatening him, Kais’ predicament becomes darker even if still absurd. The difficulty of placing the tone is one of the film’s strengths, wrong footing the audience and keeping us on edge, in the same way Sara and Kais are increasingly uncertain to the point of distraction.
Hazem Berrabah’s black and white photograph has an austere cleanliness to it, a smoothness that sometimes belies the chaos it portrays. Despite its extremity, Kais and Sara’s predicament is not far from what we all experienced. It is at once absurd and nightmarish and genuinely funny and genuinely scary. It deals specifically with mental health issues in the time of the pandemic but even in its characters madness there is a trace of everything that has being going on at a societal level. The conspiracy theories and the extreme political positions have thrived in a way that pre-pandemic might have seemed impossible.
Communion just showed at The Red Sea International Film Festival which will run from December 6th to 15th, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.