Features Live Action Movies


Director – Mazen Khaled – 2017 – UK – Cert. 18 – 84m


Hounded by his parents to find work, a young man hangs out with friends and dives off the Beirut balustrade into the sea… and his death – in cinemas and on VoD from Friday, March 12th

A young man Hassane lives in Beirut with his parents. He can barely drag himself out of bed in the morning. They want him to go out and look for work and because he’s not yet found any, his father has a friend he’ll talk to too see if a suitable job can be found. To get his parents off his back, he promises he’ll look for work today.

He finds living at home with his parents to be a stifling experience. Masturbation in the shower might provide some respite were it not for his father beating on the door to shout the he’s taking too much time and using up the family’s water allowance.

Once he goes out on his moped, rather than look for work he joins his best mate Hmeid and other friends down at the promenade overlooking the Mediterranean, a popular diving spot. They hang out, chat for a while, then he mounts the balustrade to dive into the sea and… doesn’t come up.

After Hmeid fails to bring him round, he and the others bring the body back to shore and carry it to his parents’ home where they start enacting Muslim death rituals – the women mourning in one room the corpse prepared for ritual cleansing in another. The young men sullenly don provided T-shirts and remain seated, out of respect.

Khaled shoots a conventional drama to no more than the most perfunctory extent. Although the basic plot is key to the film, he seems just as interested in other elements, most obviously homoeroticism once his all male characters peel down to their shorts and sit around on the beach talking in bright sunlight.

Bodies – and they’re all male bodies here – are clearly a thing. Witness the opening sequence of a (presumably drowned or drowning) body floating upright underwater, a peculiar pose with arms arched behind back lovingly chopped up in beautifully composed shots so tight in it’s hard to see exactly what one is looking at beyond flesh and bodily hair. After Hassane’s death as Hmeid sits and thinks, the director throws in dance sequences in a darkened, abstract space to explore the two men’s relationship, moving on to stage something similar with Hassane’s mother and her accompaniment of mourning women.

The high level of ritual seems to permeate everything, even Hassane’s fateful dive – a long period of him standing in sunlight, a couple of brief shots of him passing through the air before the camera on his descent and loud booms accompanied by some shots of water impact with air pockets before everything goes into stasis as we wait for him to surface which he never does.

Before that though, there’s an exhilarating moped point of view journey through the back streets accompanied by near transcendent piano music. As if to say, this one space is where Hassane is truly free of outside pressures familial or peer and feels truly alive. Alas, outside of this, the rituals and the desire to prove oneself close in. It’s a bleak picture of an existence where the individual is afforded no room to breathe.

Martyr is out in cinemas and on VoD in the UK from Friday, March 12th.


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