Elektra (80 min, 2022) is a kammerspiel-film set in the moody, cavernous ruin of the Piccadilly Theater, Beirut’s extravagant art palace destroyed after the Lebanese Civil War, the film recounts three days in the life of five actresses. The women seek to revive the ghostly theater with an experimental production of Sophocles’ Elektra. In writing and directing the film, I wanted to show the austere fall of the people of Beirut after decades of war, within my own dream of the passage of the soul.
Beirut is an idea founded on libido of power. It is based on the ideology not of desire for love, but of lust. The film shows the psychological toll the withered city has taken on its people. Beginning with themes of deception, justice, and revenge in Sophocles’ play, the characters in the film undergo a total breakdown, becoming ghostly themselves in the horrid art palace, symbolic of what is vanished in Lebanon.
The film is an unscripted, discontinuous dream-narrative with abrupt changes to character, locations, and plot details told from different perspectives. I worked with the actresses every morning on the story we wanted to tell that day and together we wrote the scenes. The actresses then wrote their own situations and dialogue. During the afternoon shoot, they would often improvise their confessions and fragmentary personal stories of love and cruelty, within the framework of the theater of classical antiquity.
Diamond Abou Abboud plays multiple characters, as Clytemnestra, the guilty sister, the jealous lover, and herself, to discover in this method that she is not only fashioning something that “plays well,” but also she uncovers herself as a person and as an actress, confronting psychological traumas inflicted on her by a Beiruti society that on the surface claims cosmopolitanism, but in fact is oppressive. As in Sophocles’ play, delayed recognition intensifies Abou Abboud’s knowledge of herself. All four other actresses: Manal Issa (Elektra), Flavia Bechara (Orestes), Lisa Debs (Aegisthus), and Reina Jabbour (chorus) undergo a similar recognition of autonomy in acting and acceptance of self.
The Piccadilly Theater opened in Beirut in 1966 as a major venue for concerts, plays, and musicals. In 1970, the owners installed the largest cinema screen in the Middle East at the time. Because the theater was close to my house, underground, and safe from bombs and snipers, my mother thought it was fine for me as an adolescent to spend my days there watching movies. It was there that I fell in love with movies for the first time. During the 1982 Israeli invasion, Yasser Arafat sought refuge there for the same reasons I did as a child. The Piccadilly, now forgotten and in ruins, has come to represent Beirut, which was once full of hope and brilliance but is now decaying.
Arabic w/English subtitles; digital color, aspect ratio 3:2, frame rate of 26.6667 fps; stereo audio
The Players: Diamond Abou Aboud, Flavia Bechara, Lisa Debs, Reina Jabbour, & Manal Issa
Producers: Hisham Bizri & Mirna Shbaro
Director/Writer: Hisham Bizri
Director of Photography: Fouad Aoun
Art Director: Ghina Sibaii
Editors: Hisham Bizri, Mirna Shbaro, Charbel Abi Semaan
Line Producer: Mirna Shbaro
Production Manager: Lara Abu Saifan
Sound: Victor Bresse
Assistant Camera/Gaffer: Samer Sardouk
Colorist: Charbel Abi Semaan
Production Assistants: Yasmina Rizkallah & Saleh Suleiman
Soundtrack: Giuseppe Verdi
Subtitles: Sara El Berjawi
Original Title, Year, Country of Production.
Elektra, 2022, Lebanon
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