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The Film A1 Review By History Researcher Dr. Jaghnoun

The Syrian film A1, directed by Muhammad Ali Adeeb: A distinguished view and directing.

Upon an invitation from Jablah Antiquity Association in cooperation with the Arab Cultural Centre, the Syrian film A1, Written and Directed by Muhammad Ali Adeeb, was recently shown. It is the first Syrian film shot on Digital Medium, and gained three Golden Awards.

I would like to say that I view this unique and creative film according to what is written in the brochure accompanying the show. It stats the following: "it is a special existentialism vision, where man needs new horizons that he may not reach but after a period of inner silence, which the film calls for." I don't want, here, to hide my big enjoyment in this intellectual visual work which makes us recall the international unique films, such as: “The Trial” of the existentialist Czech writer Franz Kafka, “The Red Desert” By Michelangelo Antonioni, “Oedipus Rex” and “Medea” By Pier Paolo Pasolini. All of them are of the "New Wave" which was fashionable in the 1970s. Actually, I found in this work a vision that I have not found in the cellars of existentialist thinkers, I don't say the "existentialist philosophers", such as the Danish Kierkegaard, the German Heidegger, Jaspers and others, because they did not have the elements of philosophy, they had "existential" moods, and consequently, their ways and callings were existential.

Existentialists reversed the famous predicament of Descartes, "I think, therefore I am" to become, "I am, therefore I think," prioritizing, this way, existence to thought, and thinking, here, is the equivalence of consciousness; an individual is conscious as much as he exists, and the more existentialist he is, the more conscious he is.

In A1, we see failures at all levels, we see the individual who tries to overcome these failures, and, moreover, tries to find a meaning to his life, or, we see him seeking a "relishing dimension" trying, in vain, all means to get, even by visiting Herbalists, consulting magicians or attending charlatans' sessions. A person finds his pleasure and relish in accumulating money, another diverts his emotions and interests to pigeons busying himself away from his beautiful mate, etc.

They are all symbols that hover in the film inviting us to think of their fate and of what is their final destiny after the failures and relapses that they experience leading them to frustration or to the edge of despair. In the end, death prevented the one who was overwhelmed with love of money from getting relish in spending that money.

The title, A1, is controversial. It tempts one to interpret the intentions beyond it, or to connect it with what he sees in the film, but in vain. The director wanted to shake the viewer from the very beginning, drawing a big question mark against his face. He actually managed to do that cleverly, giving the viewer a space of freedom, perhaps all freedom, to interpret it personally. I, from my own view, interpreted the A as a symbol of Adam, not as the first man, but as a symbol of an individual and a first example of that individual with his psychological, intellectual, spiritual, physical and other dimensions. We are all Adam. The figure 1 symbolized the first; the first Adam is the last Adam, a symbol that remains valid as long as we live within our physical covers. Falling from Paradise put the first Adam (A1) in confrontation with a dilemma called life, with all its responsibilities, troubles, failures and frustrations. This is our condition, we the "Adams of the present time"; it is the same as the first Adam -our first example. This intellectual and visual view of Adam is demonstrated in the first scenes of the film, which represent the birth of the universe, creation, Adam and Eve, and love. The director finishes the film, not the view, by a unique creative review of his Adamite models that pass in front of the camera –the wetness eye- and perhaps the sarcastic ironic, or pitiful, eye that commiserates these models, on a background of cold and harsh scenery that is empty of warmth and tenderness. As if he wanted to say: this floundering world will end up in ice, which means hate, as an American poet said:

"Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice."

As for the scenario, I think that its subject is so brave that senior directors will hesitate to accept such a thorny intellectual text, put aside that this philosophical thought will have to borrow technological vocabularies for difficult expression.

As the director is the scenarist of the film, he was already aware, in his imagination, of the role he was going to play as a scriptwriter and director when pursuing and following up the lines of the human examples or the "social cells" and models that he selected to realize his directing vision. Through his persevering follow-up of the models, he confirms the film "existentialism" on reality, and following them within the area drawn to them as visually crystallized characters, each upon its way and method; no character has escaped his critical eye, or his precise, yet free, control.

He let his characters –models- express themselves using the language of faces, eyes, music and audio-visual effects, freeing them of "vocalization language". Here, the importance of this work lies. It gives its models the freedom of intensive "inner" psychological expression. And it gives the viewers –with their different cultural levels and life experiences- the freedom of reception, with the effort and active human participation included in this process, an issue that was demonstrated and interpreted in the many and various questions and views expressed in the discussion that followed the show in the director's attendance.

The third and most important point in this discussion is the directing process of all the aforementioned elements. I should say that I don't introduce myself here as a film critic or an art expert, but as a viewer who watched this unique film and was so surprised that he had no choice but appraising it and giving a special reading that may not appreciate it sufficiently.

From the first scene of the film, the viewer can feel strongly the director's "existence"; the selection of shooting angles, music, effects, cutting. Behind these essential elements, that are balanced in the film, the director says: "I'm here." They are the elements-premises that bring you to the final result that does not end by the end of the film; it ends inside the spectators and moves to others within the artistic cultural interaction process that man pursues through art and culture.

The major point that attracted my attention is the director's big capability to control the performance of the "actors" who were not mere actors. This gave the film a dimension that we see only in few unique works.

We are not before actors whose names and skills are known to us from previous works, so that we have to forget them in favor of the acting and performance. No, we are before persons whom we have never seen and we don't know their real names (but at the end of the show).

Therefore, we feel, throughout the show, that we are before real characters, not before "borrowed" characters or actors embodying the film characters. Nor we feel that we are before a screen, but before life facts, where the characters, themselves, live their own life and not play roles given to them by the director. In order to project their creditability, the characters have been assisted by a skillful camera that moved smoothly using efficiently the accurate lighting, colors, shooting location and formation, and the accompanying techniques. It assured that, by the accurate selection of his work items, the director gave it the characteristics of "super visual care", so that one will have the impression that the director is as skillful in photography (or cinematography or videography) as in directing. Thus, the viewer who can't keep up with the intellectual content of the film, will, no doubt, have a significant visual reserve associated with the pleasure of scenes and how they have been shot.

The music, Choral, and effects support that visual, intellectual and psychological drama, highlighting it and projecting its importance in accordance with the requirements of the current moment. The important sound effects confirmed their role and importance; they were clever and accurately done. Cancelling the "vocalization language" made it necessary to take care of, strengthen and maximize these effects, as we have seen, heard and felt. They said what "vocalization language" cannot.

Last, but not least, A1 is a film that deserves being watched more than one time. It deserves more than one critical reading. The young director deserves not only appreciation, but thanks as well for his courage in introducing a real, creative work of art, that he directed with the mastership and skillfulness of the creator who is aware of his role and confident of his steps towards his goal.

Eng. Malatius Gabriel Jaghnoun

Researcher in History of Ancient Syrian Arts and Archaeologies, and Old Languages.