year of production: 2020
country of production: Lebanon
director: Remi Itani
production: Stray Films
director of photography: Sebastián Lojo
editing: Terence Chim
sound: Victor Bresse
cast: Carina Medawar, Majd Jaber
festivals: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2020, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur 2020, PÖFF Shorts 2020, FILMFEST DRESDEN 2021, Aspen Short Film Festival 2021
© images: Drought (Remi Itani)
Slowly, Carina removes her blue-marine blouse while laying on an uncovered mattress. Once undressed, she turns her look towards her left to face a mirror placed on the ground. As her neck turns, the still camera switches the focus from the foreground to the background, making that mirror the place of encounter between the character’s look and that of the spectator. Her stare is neither judgmental nor regretful, but rather it is imbued with a sense of melancholia. She starts gently touching her body as she is re-encountering it after years of detachment. Still, the look on her face stays unchanged, almost impassive. What she sees and what she feels are far away from what she would like to. That reflected image enables us to witness Carina through her own eyes, to perceive her inner turmoil, her lack of satisfaction, translating that still gaze into a call for empathy.
Carina is a middle-aged real estate agent that spends her days either in empty apartments or eating alone always at the same restaurant waiting for her clients to come. Yet, most of the time, those appointments are delayed or even canceled, and she is left alone hanging with her thoughts. In a society in which everything runs fast, in which economic business functions as the only metronome for our lives, in which everything becomes façade, in which no interaction seems to be neither meaningful nor genuine, Carina finds herself lost, lacking not solely a direction, but even a sense of purpose. In this flow of pointless phone conversations and postponed meetings that seem to endlessly repeat itself, her lonely existence proceeds in a prolonged state of emotional drought. She appears imprisoned in a self-eroding loop in which what she needs and desires feels unreachable, and that she cannot escape.
This inner emotional vacuum traces a perfect fil rouge with the anonymous empty places she spends most of her hours in. The meeting between the two becomes a place for exploration, a space through which she tries to reconnect with her own body and self. Each step and move she makes echoes restlessly within those walls as the silent and diegetic soundscapes constantly reaffirm this sense of inner desolation that permeates the character’s existence. The stillness inhabiting those rooms and their interior design are almost always captured by a stable camera, creating a lack of compositional movement that becomes almost suffocating and creates a feeling of reversed claustrophobia. Carina is fully immersed within this gloomy sterility in which her physicality, her moves, the scar on her body and the color of her hair merge together transforming each aesthetic element into a metaphorical portrait of her inner state and struggle. Like the walls, floors, and furniture of those flats are covered with leaves of plastic, so is her sterile and droughty self.
Even when she directly faces her sexual dissatisfaction by bringing a younger man to one of those apartments, their physical encounter appears deprived of any emotional connection. As they sleep together, they remain at distance, detached from one another, until the moment the young man stares at her sleeping body for one last time, and leaves. Once more, she is left alone laying on a mattress covered in plastic, reminded of a void that still has to be filled in, of a wound that still has to recover. Only by the end, with the last shot, we are given a glimpse of Carina’s house. Everything remains in semi-darkness while she crouches down near the fridge to eat a piece of cake as to hide from the outside world, but not from the spectator. Yet, it is early morning and the sunlight is gently and warmly entering the house.
What can you tell through a body? What can you tell through an empty space? Those questions seem to have represented the driving force for Remi Itani in thinking and crafting ‘Drought’. The outcome of her quest gives life to a slow-paced dance between Carina and those desolate and soulless houses; a minimalist fresco that fixates a specific moment in the character’s life and that the viewer is allowed to penetrate through an intimate look. A look that has nothing voyeuristic, but is rather desired by and precious for Carina in her attempt to interrupt a chronic shortage of emotions, to end her personal drought, and finally humanely reconnect with herself and with someone else, us.
This text was developed within the Talking Shorts Film Criticism Workshop during FILMFEST DRESDEN in July 2021, with the kind support of International Visegrad Fund, Deutsch-Tschechischer Zukunftsfonds and Landesdirektion Sachsen.Leonardo Govoni