A night out with friends doesn’t normally end with a gun purchase and a search for the guy who scratched up your moped, but that’s exactly what happens to Toufic (Elie Mitri) in Michel Kammoun 2006 debut feature Falafel. Screening as part of the TIFF series Once Upon A Time, Lebanon: Visions Of Postwar In New Lebanese Cinema, Falafel takes viewers on a wild night on the town with Toufic, a young man living in Beirut. While having a good time at his friend’s house, he gets into an altercation with a local tough guy. Instead of listening to the advice of his friends, Toufic heads out into the streets of Beirut, hoping to find the man who damaged his moped.
This film manages to capture those moments in life where things can change drastically in a few seconds. What starts out as a comedy quickly becomes something much more dark and dangerous, and all it takes is a small conversation between two men. Rounding things off at the end is another drastic shift in tone, a scene that shows the audience that there are things in life worth fighting for, and others that really aren’t that important. Even though the tone of the film changes, every scene flows perfectly into the next, taking the characters on a very natural course throughout. Every moment, no matter how small, has an impact on the events of the evening. If you changed one little thing in the film, it would be off in a very different direction. It reminds me of stories of people who just happened to miss the bus, which then got in an accident. That tiny change greatly affected the outcome.
Elie Mitri carries most of the film as lead character Toufic, and his performance is fantastic. He gracefully slides from scenes involving his younger brother and their loving relationship, to those moments where his anger overwhelms him, sending him on the hunt for the man who damaged his moped. In between we see the concern that his has for his friends, his love for the beautiful Yasmin (Gabrielle Bou Rached), and the kindness that he shares with everyone. While Mitri gets to stretch his dramatic muscles throughout the film, actors Issam Bou Khaled and Michel Hourani, as Toufic’s friends Abboudi and Nino, are more like the Lebanese Laurel and Hardy, providing almost all of the comic relief in the film. When Toufic leaves his friends and they can’t find them, it’s Abboudi and Nino who drive around looking for him, and while Toufic continues to find himself in various levels of trouble, Abboudi and Nino spend most of their time arguing like a married couple. It gives some of the more intense parts of the film a little breathing room, lightening up what could become a very dark movie.
There have been plenty of other films where a night on the town goes wrong, but none of them seem to capture reality quite like Falafel does. Although searching the city for the man who damaged your property seems unbelievable, the film does a spectacular job of making it seem natural.
Falafel screens on Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 2:45 pm as part of the TIFF Once Upon A Time, Lebanon: Visions Of Postwar In New Lebanese Cinema screening series. Tickets and information can be found on their website.