Almost four decades after the premiere of Ziad Rahbani’s play Bel nesbe la boukra shou? (What About Tomorrow?), a Lebanese distribution company has brought footage of the play to the silver screen, allowing a new generation access to art productions that make up Lebanon and the Arab’s world’s artistic heritage.
For years, efforts were made to convince the son of late Lebanese musician and producer Assi El-Rahbani and iconic Lebanese singer Fairouz to restore and prepare footage of the play, which was first performed in the late 1970s, in order to screen it to a cinema audience.
In the heart of Beirut, four screening venues were packed on the special premiere for journalists and invitees.
The audience interacted with the film, as if they were watching the play firsthand, clapping the moment the actors went on stage, and singing along with late Lebanese singer Joseph Saker as he sang Aa Hadeer Al-Bosta, Esmaa Ya Reda and Aisha Wahda Balak.
The audience members comprised members of Lebanon’s older generation who had attended the play’s premiere on 27 February 1978, which garnered huge commercial success, and hence wanted to reclaim the memories of Beirut in this production, which continued to be performed in Al-Hamra Street for eight months. Also attending were Lebanese youth who grew up listening to recordings of Rahbani’s works.
In Bel nesbe la boukra shou? Rahbani was able to depict a reality that critics saw was more than poignant, about Beirut during the Lebanese civil war.
This was Rahbani’s third production as a young musician, after ‘Sahriyya’ and ‘Nazal Al-Srour.' Rahbani wrote and directed the play and also played the main role of Zakaria, who distributed drinks in a bar where comical encounters tinted with poignancy unfolded.
It was Ziad’s sister, Layal, who made the play’s journey to the silver screen a possibility. Layal had filmed the whole play decades ago using a hand-held camera. Ziad had asked her to film the play to observe and monitor the actors’ performance and their movement on stage.
While the audience in Beirut this week concurred that the screened copy was not of high quality, and that the image was constantly shaky and unclear in intermittent scenes, they nevertheless interacted with every character's movement on stage.
Ahmed El-Abd, 65, an audience member, told Reuters that, “This work attests to Rahbani’s genius who weaved comical yet authentic conversations, and wrote tens of the sentences that continue to be engraved in our memories after 38 years of the play’s premiere in the historical Al-Hamra Street.”
“This bar where daily and beautifully simple incidents unfold is a microcosm of the city of Beirut. This is our life and the war we lived, with its minute and moving details depicted in this bar. I don’t care if the film’s image is poor, I attended today to relive my memories,” he added.
After the screening, audience members in all four screening halls gave minutes of applause, chorusing Rahbani’s name.
The film is officially screened across Lebanon’s movie theatres starting 21 January.
Hala Al-Laqees, 43, who came to the capital from Lebanon’s north to watch the filmic copy of her favorite play, said: “I grew up listening to recordings of Rahbani’s plays. I blame this great artist for not filming all of his plays, wanting them to remain in their original historical context.”
*This article was originally published in Arabic by Reuters
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