The line between what is real and what is staged is increasingly blurry in documentary practice. Karim Kaseem’s Thiiird is one of such movies. Born in Beirut and based in the United States, the filmmaker began his career directing music videos and commercials. Thiiird is indeed his third feature film, and the final piece of a trilogy about his native Lebanon, which began with Only the Winds (2020) and Octopus (2021), winner of the Best Film Award at the IDFA that year.
A motley crew of customers visit an elderly mechanic Fouad Mahouly and his faithful assistant Mohamad Alayan (played by themselves) in the outskirts of Beirut in order to have their cars fixed. But as customers open up about their problems over coffee, it becomes increasingly clear that the humans being are the ones in urgent need of repair. Shot in stunning black and white – with the exception of the last sequence – the film has an unusual plasticity for documentaries. The photography is signed by Talal Khoury. At times, it looks like a music video with high production values. The movie boasts many slow motion scenes and a pervasive dreamlike atmosphere.
Gradually, viewers come to the realisation that the film about the fractious socio-political landscape of Lebanon, and not just one specific group of people. Their personal dreams, hopes and anguish are transformed into something universal and poetic. Kassem finds the perfect balance between melancholy and optimism, in a fitting tribute to the Lebanese soul.
The film is edited in an elliptical fashion, and the stories of the individual characters are interwoven. A woman breaks down and cries when she receives the news that her son will not be able to continue studying at the same school. Two friends rehearse a scene from a play about the future of Lebanon. A sleepless man shudders with exhaustion.
Fouad is extremely lonely, and the director doesn’t put much effort into illustrating his personal life. At one point, Mohamad suggests that he get closer to his family. We then discover that Fouad has a son. The distant relationship between the two reinforces the feeling of disconnection.
In one of the most poetic moments of the film, Fouad and Mohamad set off on a journey along the coast of Lebanon, taking with them three doors that they decide to position in strategic locations. They represent some sort of portal to the future. Thiiird is an entry gate to the Lebanese soul. You too are invited to unravel the mystery.
Thiiird shows in the Festival favourites section of the 3rd Red Sea International Film Festival. The film premiered in the beginning of the year at Rotterdam. It was supported by the Red Sea Film Fund and the Arab Fund For Arts And Culture (Afac).