In White

By Dania Bdeir | Drama
A woman returns to Beirut for her father's funeral and faces the traditions she escaped.

Lara returns to her native Beirut after many years away, on the occasion of her father’s funeral. She brings along her “friend,” who is revealed to be the fiance she’s been hiding, and a nontraditional choice from the one expected from her.

Confronted with the family and memories she left behind, she’s forced to face the traditions she’s escaped — and the unconventional future she faces with her future husband.

Writer-director Dania Bdeir’s exquisitely crafted drama blends beautiful cinematography, subtle performance and finely attuned editing to explore the tumult of emotions that results when its main character returns to the homeland of her parents. Lara’s collision of past tradition with her more autonomous, expressive present elicits conflict and tension, both internally and with a family that chides her as being “too American” and tries to adapt her style to their cultural milieu.

The film is a string of sensations, textures and sounds that we experience through Lara’s eyes. Much of the film’s pleasure is found in the beautiful images, which are suffused with a hazy light. Working along with the cinematography is the sculptural and poetic sound design, which is gorgeous and lends the film a melancholy feel. The aesthetic of the film clearly conveys the respect and beauty for the traditional rituals — but in many ways, it echoes how Lara seems to drift through the film, subject to the powerful undercurrents of the family dynamics she sometimes struggles against.

Most of the drama and conflict emerges mostly in the unspoken looks and expectations between characters, and the subtle ways power is exerted between them. The performances have an almost documentary, minimal feel to them, full of glances and gestures.

Lara herself is often photographed as more of a figure in a tableau, especially in the scenes with her family, with the camerawork focused on the wringing of her hands or the tense turn of her neck. Lead performer Maria Achkar offers a rich performance with often very little dialogue, expressing a rich sense of inner conflict, grief and ambivalence with just a look.

When she finally takes control of her situation and expresses herself authentically, it both brings the conflict with her past and present to a head — and allows the strength and pride to come to the fore and help her move into a future of her own making.

“In White” is a beautifully evocative short drama that captures a particular turning point in one young’s woman’s life, made complicated by the intense push and pull that a homeland can exert on someone who has left it. Through a sensuous command of craft and sensitive storytelling, it offers both a small window into a specific world and a universal tale of standing tall as one’s full self.

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