'Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous' - Venice review

Wissam Charaf's second feature tells the touchingly beautiful story of two human beings who are condemned to carry each other throughout their struggling existence and yet whose paradise lies within one another and the pure love they carry in their burdened hearts.
'Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous' - Venice review

Stories about star-crossed lovers are as old as Romeo and Juliet. Yet there are some who can tell the familiar tale with a different spin, making the experience feel like theirs is a completely new story, the start of something exciting and unexpected.

Such is the case with Wissam Charaf, and his grown up, modern-world-we-live-in, cinematic fairy tale Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous.

In Beirut, Ethiopian migrant house maid Mehdia (played by the petite and delicious looking Clara Couturet) is in love with Syrian scrap metal collector Ahmed (the smoldering, lanky and spellbinding Ziad Jallad). The two make an unlikely pair, and even finding a place to steal a romantic moment together seems like an insurmountable challenge. Ahmed has been through hell on earth, escaping Syria after having been hit by shrapnel from a bomb, and Mehdia is surrounded by a suffocating cast of characters which include lady of the house Madame Leila, played by the divine Darina Al Joundi, who is neither good nor evil but runs a strict household, Leila's husband, a retired army colonel who has dementia and at times comes crashing into Mehdia's bedroom pretending to be Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula and even Leila's son Fadi (a cool cameo by the filmmaker himself) -- who comes in bringing his own maid, a wonderfully shy Bengali girl who doesn't speak a stitch of Arabic.

But Ahmed too is a caged being, because while Mehdia's cages are built around her by people, the household and her situation, Ahmed's body is beginning to turn into an iron prison, as he continues to expel rust and metal. It's all allegorical, but Charaf's genius lies in making it appear real, albeit in a completely cinematic way.

The clever cinematography by Martin Rit elevates the script, which was written by Charaf with Mariette Désert and Hala Dabaji and is full of humanity, yet lacks that killer of all things cinematic for me, pathos. There are several layers to DDD, as the film has been affectionately nicknamed by those who, like me, are too lazy to spell out its full, wonderful title. All the layers don't actually become apparent until one sits down to speak with the filmmaker, who is a wealth of information. Part of the challenge of making the film was also in the casting, though between Couturet and Jallad one could imagine the film having been built around them -- they are just that perfect in their roles. Couturet herself had to learn Arabic phonetically, as she is French, of Ethiopian heritage and Jallad is Lebanese-Egyptian living in France, so he also had to learn a different accent, Syrian Arabic, but also incorporate a special metamorphosis into his performance. You'll have to watch the film to understand.

Visas, locations, production, nationalities all played significant roles in the film, as much behind the scenes as in front of the camera -- what we end up seeing on the big screen.

Charaf adds an extra layer, by measuring into the mix a wondrous music score which mixes traditional Syrian music with Ethiopian chanting, all tied up into a Jim Jarmusch-like soundtrack composed by Lebanese music producer Zeid Hamdan. It gives the film the right tone of absurdity it needs to elevate the story from the squalor of its setting to the beauty of a love story between fallen angels, two human beings who are condemned to carry each other throughout their struggling existence and yet whose paradise lies within one another and the pure love they carry in their burdened hearts. 

Because true love always liberates.

The film is Charaf's follow-up to his 2016 feature Heaven Sent, which premiered in the ACID sidebar in Cannes. The film also stars, in a cool and unexpected cameo, our beloved contributor Ammar Abd Rabbo and it was great to finally photograph the photographer on a red carpet.

France/Italy/Lebanon, 2022, 83 mins

Dir: Wissam Charaf

Writers: Wissam Charaf, Mariette Désert, Hala Dabaji

Prod: Charlotte Vincent, Katia Khazak

Co-Prod: Marco Valerio Fusco, Micaela Fusco, Pierre Sarraf

Cinematography: Martin Rit

Editor: Clémence Diard

Music: Zeid Hamdan

Images courtesy of Giornate degli Autori, used with permission

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