Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Markus Castro
Writer: Markus Castro
Cast: Adel Darwish, Nathalie Williamsdotter, Ahmad Fadel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/22/20
Opens: October 16, 2020
If Monir (Adel Darwish) had a cairn terrier walking at heel, he might say, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Syria anymore.” And no wonder. In place of the 180,185 kilometers of desert, he’d find a vast forest of Redwood-sized trees. In fact the film’s title, “Ghabe,” is Arabic for “forest.” Taking with him all the memories of the Syrian culture that he must have absorbed during his twenty-five or so years in that current shithole plus the post-traumatic stress he feels not only for the chemical attacks Assad launched on his own people, you can imagine the difficult time he would have adapting to any Western culture. It takes him some coaxing to get out of a car outside a cabin that a progressive Swedish family set aside for the use of Monir, his uncle Farid (Ahmad Fadel) and three other refugees. Of course he will learn to love the place, but not because of what he must consider its strange culture, given the summer festival under a Viking symbol involving the statue of a penis and two testicles. How about his sight of a couple of Swedish women swimming in the nude while he hides behind a tree? Only the love of a local beauty could possibly convert this stressed-out guy into finally embracing his good luck in escaping from the wretched, war-torn Fascist state into perhaps the progressive Western country that welcomes refugees. Recall that Sweden served as a Shangi-Li for thousands of Americans who refused to serve in Vietnam and a refuge for hundreds of Jews that Denmark under wartime occupation shipped to Swedish shores to escape the Holocaust.
When Monir first sees the adorable Moa (Nathalie Williamsdotter), with her thick, red hair and dazzling blue eyes, he is smitten. Believing that he has no chance with her, he is content to watch her swim and masturbate, hiding behind a tree. Little could he imagine that Moa spotted him, accepting his “self-abuse,” even laughing but in a tender way. How different the response from Karin, her racist mother, probably angry that Sweden is accepting Middle Eastern refugees who will try to gain residency after a few months. Moa takes little time in seducing him as they are out with a rowboat, the kind of action that (we think) people from reactionary Arab cultures would consider the satanic work of a hooker. Not Monir. Despite his immaturity, he not only relishes the seduction but falls even more deeply in love with the young woman.
Events come to a melodramatic conclusion involving a police action, one of the officers acting as though he must have been trained in some U.S. red state to shoot a person who not had not attacked him and, in fact had put down the kitchen knife as he was told. A decision by Moa which could threaten Monir’s chance for a residence permit is uncalled for, unpredictable, and plain unimaginable. But here is a love story, a political drama that should make you think of the excesses of police power in our own country, and a meditation on countries like Syria that can kill its own people, most of them innocent of rebellion against the government.
Markus Castro directs his freshman offering with a storyteller’s professionalism, casting a lyrical glow on a section of his country with forests so vast that you’ll think you’re in California. One particular long shot is breathtaking—a view of the lovers in their rowboat set across the vastness of the forest and the universe, constellations brightly shining on two young people who are embracing the risks of a star-crossed romance.
101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+