Coffee and cross words and conversations of change. While a war ends and begins beyond the watching windows of an elevated cafe in Lebanon, two cheeky old men (one more than the other) battle a war of their own. A war that’s creeped up on them over the years and is now threatening to take fragments of their mind. But they fight it with humour, caffeine, routine and a game of remembering. But first, every day begins with a “sabaah alkhar” (good morning).
Directed by Bahij Hojeij, Good Morning (2018) is a film about humanity, mundanity, and both the reality of growing up with conflict and uncertainty, and growing old with the blessing and burden of the memories. It follows a former General (Adel Chahine) and army Doctor (Gabriel Yammine) of 80 something years old as they cope with the changes and chaos surrounding the region.
Good Morning has you laughing at familiar jokes your jido (grandpa) must have told you before, the men’s attempts at speaking English and their confusion at “the new generation”. But you also find yourself placing a hand on your heart in unexpected moments of sadness and calm, where the state of the world sits stagnant within the walls of the cafe. Before every good morning, Arabic letters come together on the screen, like a silent film, and we are guided by the formed sayings, quotes and thoughts.
When the General jumps out of his seat (very often) at the site of new customers to tell them a joke (sometimes after asking them, and sometimes after they’ve already said no), you can’t help but hope they’ll laugh or simply be kind. And when they’re not, you want to reach out to the General, pat him on the shoulder and say “tell me another one.” Luckily, there’s Salim (Rodrigue Sleiman), the Journalist sitting near by who often smiles and participates – a friend of ‘right place, right time’. We sit with the old men and their newspapers, find comfort in the smiling Journalist and appreciate the kind waitress, while they watch the demolition and dust, traffic jams, dodgy drivers, and the old people who still “walk well”. In between it all, they share their dirty jokes, classic songs and the words of long gone poets.
As the film progresses, the Arabic letters reveal less upbeat realisations and the men start forgetting the small things – a hat, a bag, the amount of steps they counted. While they giggle about it like teenagers, in the sullen silence that follows, you see them dwell on the years piled on and the moments almost forgotten. We follow these details with the changes in camera shots and angles, until we’re eventually more than just on-lookers. We see the sadness in the concentrating creases of their faces. But despite this, there is always time for a joke, and the laughter is enough for us to have hope.
This film is a representation of history’s repetition, of wars long gone and those brewing, of the protesters, locals and refugees that pour onto the streets. At one point the General announces ‘naazih’ (displaced) as one of the crossword hints, and the Doctor replies, “Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni. We already had our turn.” But this film is also a representation of the importance of knowing what to hold onto and what to let be, and a reminder of the cliché but never outdated advice to “be kind”. It is simple yet rich with complications, filmed in one cafe, yet wonders to many locations. It is hilarious and heartbreaking. It is well worth watching.
Good Morning was screened at Hoyts Cinema Sunnybank as part of the Lebanese Film Festival (LFF). This is the first time the LFF comes to Brisbane (18-19 October). Keep an eye on their website for future films and screenings.
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