The backstory is almost a movie itself: A couple of young helmers self-produce their first feature using friends and family as actors, get some money from Abu Dhabi’s Sanad fund and go on to win a major prize at the Abu Dhabi fest. At once humorous, melancholy, sardonic and wistful, Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia’s feature debut, “OK, Enough, Goodbye.,” is a multistrand story of a single man left adrift when his mother moves out. Using an appealing slice-of-life observational approach, the directors have crafted a warmhearted though not rose-tinted indie tale whose charms will easily attract fest programmers worldwide.
Attieh, from the seaside city of Tripoli in Lebanon, and Texas native Garcia aim to capture the spirit of life in Attieh’s hometown, signaled at the start by a narrator reciting tempting facts about Tripoli while the camera reveals a place of undistinguished high-rises and abandoned urban projects. The city is an equal protagonist here, its dowdy air of unfulfilled promise and everyone-knows-each-other insularity making the characters’ underdeveloped inner lives seem fittingly natural. Perhaps that’s why the helmers decided not to give their main players names, presenting them merely as “Son” and “Mother.”
The son (Daniel Arzruni) could be a character from a Judd Apatow film starring an older Seth Rogen: He’s nearing 40 and still at home with his mother (Nadime Attieh, Rania Attieh’s grandmother). Theirs is practically the definition of a passive-aggressive, dependent relationship, in which her nagging behavior ensures his willingly infantilized state. Then, out of the blue, she leaves for Beirut, conveniently labeling all the food in the freezer but not bothering to tell her son she’s gone.
Mom’s departure throws her son into a state, since his world was completely circumscribed by their home life and his work at the down-market pastry shop he runs. Uncertain how to exist alone, he hires a prostitute (Nawal Mekdad) and then an Ethiopian maid (Sablawork Tesfay), though the latter proves to be an uncommunicative, sullen presence, and in her silence and apparent lack of interest in food, the exact opposite of his mother.
The filmmakers’ approach is quasi-documentarian and fully observational, achieving a rare sympathetic glimpse into not merely a few characters but an entire milieu. Though there’s deep affection here, the script doesn’t shrink from razor-sharp criticism, especially in the way it shines a light on the disturbing treatment of foreign maids in Lebanon (Rania Attieh’s father, Nazem Attieh, plays a horrifically bigoted but not caricatured employment agency director).
With considerable wisdom, the helmers give the main characters their own voices via individual video diaries, allowing auds to see these people unfiltered through others’ eyes (so to speak, since it’s all scripted), each talking about their interests or, in the case of the maid, about the difficulties and cruelties of life as an Ethiopian servant in Lebanon.
The non-pro thesps know their roles so well that no actorly posturing is felt, furthering the sense that the filmmakers have been deeply influenced by docu forms. Similarly, Garcia’s camera maintains an unobtrusive presence, often fixed at a slight distance that allows the characters their space without removing them at too great a distance.