Moderate fest play will be spurred by Abu Dhabi's prize for best Arab feature.

The psychological effects of decades-long secret incarcerations and kidnappings in Lebanon is examined with more sensitivity than style in Bahij Hojeij’s sophomore feature, “Here Comes the Rain.” Weaving together three stories for a full appreciation of the very real traumas experienced by missing men and their loved ones, Hojeij delves unevenly into characterization, and his pic frequently feels held back by an unchallenging sense of decorum. Moderate fest play will be spurred by Abu Dhabi’s prize for best Arab feature.

After 20 years in an almost Dickensian cell, Ramez (Hassan Mrad) is suddenly released from prison. In the film’s best scene, wife Marie (Julia Kassar) comes to meet him, the contrast between the well-dressed, erect woman and her stooped, unshaven husband movingly visualized as he rests his head on her shoulder in an almost childlike gesture. But Ramez is practically a stranger to his wife, and to daughter Nadia (Diamant A. Abboud) and son Elie (Elie Mitri), he’s like a ghost, someone to whom they feel no connection.

Three months later, he’s still a foreign presence: His days are spent wandering the streets obsessively collecting decorative shopping bags. Hojeij misses a golden opportunity for metaphor here, since the gift bags seem to carry no symbolism. During his aimless excursions, Ramez meets Zenaib (Carmen Lebbos), a hermit-like woman whose husband also disappeared two decades earlier. In contrast with Marie — who, in one of several frustratingly undeveloped threads, tells a lover their relationship has to take a hiatus — Zenaib’s entire life has been on hold while waiting for her husband’s longed-for return.

Interspersed within these main stories are black-and-white sequences with Nayfeh Najjar (Bernadette Hodeib) at her typewriter, composing desperate letters to a Beirut newspaper about her missing son. Najjar was real, and the letters, from 1984, provide a level of emotional connection occasionally missing from the fictionalized narrative threads.

While Hojeij makes clear the toll inflicted on countless Lebanese whose stunted lives collectively form a national trauma, his script lacks the sharpness needed to make auds feel these characters as more than generic representatives of Lebanon’s long nightmare of internecine and foreign struggle. Pics such as Hatem Ali’s superior “The Long Night” have tackled similar themes with greater emotional impact and style. Unfortunately, thesping often has a superficial TV quality, as does the lighting, despite Steadicam work seemingly designed to counter a smallscreen feel.

Here Comes the Rain

Lebanon

Production

An Online Films -- Beirut production, with the participation of Fonds Francophone pour le Cinema, Sanad, Lebanese Ministry of Culture. Produced by Bahij Hojeij. Co-producer, Paul Baboudjian. Directed by Bahij Hojeij. Screenplay, Hojeij, with the collaboration of Imane Humaydan, Oussama Bardaouil.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, HD), Maxime Heraud; editor, Michele Tyan; music, Wissam Hojeij; production designer, Georges Salem; costume designers, Yara Saade, Nadine Kassem; sound, Mouhab Chanesaz, Raed Younan. Reviewed at Abu Dhabi Film Festival (competing), Oct. 22, 2010. (Also in Doha Tribeca Film Festival - World Panorama.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Hassan Mrad, Julia Kassar, Carmen Lebbos, Bernadette Hodeib, Diamant A. Abboud, Elie Mitri, Gabriel Yammine, Aide Sabra, Raya Haidar, Ali Matar, Paul Matar.

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