Tower Hamlets residents give top marks to Lebanese film Tramontane

A film about a young blind man forced to find out his true identity in the aftermath of war-torn Lebanon has received maximum marks by the audience at a pop-up cinema in East London.

Tramontane was the debut screening of The Hamlets, an innovative new travelling community cinema for Tower Hamlets residents and visitors to the borough.  

Thirty-five people attended the first screening, held at Oxford House in Bethnal Green, on Friday 6 October. Of those who returned their score cards, 23 people rated the film as Excellent – the highest possible rating – and a further six marked the film as Good. One person scored the film Fair, and none chose the lowest rating of Poor.

Film-goers arrive early for the free screening of Tramontane - the first movie shown by The Hamlets Pop-Up Cinema

A mystery drama, Tramontane focuses on the web of lies that have been sown to form the fake personal history of Rabih, played brilliantly by Barakat Jabbour, a blind musician in real-life. Rabih lives with his mum Samar (Julia Kassar) in a small village near Beirut and attends a local school for the blind, where he sings in the school choir. When they are invited to tour Europe, Rabih applies for a passport, but the authorities tell him his ID card is a forgery. 

Trying to get authentic documents like his birth certificate, Rabih soon discovers everything he knew about himself, including where he was born and who his parents are, is false. Finding out the truth proves a difficult journey.

Helped by a taxi driver from the village, Rabih travels the country in search of answers. The wall of deceit he faces puts a major strain on his relationship with his mother and uncle, former military officer Hisham.

The debut film by director Vatche Boulghourjian, Tramontane offers an intimate insight into the lives of a nation still traumatised by Lebanon’s near past. Those caught up in the country’s brutal civil war prefer to bury the horrors of the past and with it Rabih’s real identity. 
Blind actor Barakat Jabbour plays in the lead role as Rabih Ralek with Julia Kassar, who plays his mum Samar in Tramontane

The cinematic shots of Lebanon were as gorgeous as this tale was sad. In the end, it was left to Rabih’s haunting voice and Middle Eastern music to complete the story.

The cast and storyline were captivating. One audience member at The Hamlets, Charbel, described Tramontane as “excellent” and wrote on Facebook that he “really liked it”. The discussions around the film continued amongst film-goers long after the screening ended. 

A volunteer from The Hamlets Pop-Up Cinema signing in film-goers at the screening of Tramontane at Oxford House, Bethnal Green in East London

Tower Hamlets’ new community cinema is managed by film charity Balik Arts and is supported by the Council as part of its Thriving High Streets programme. The project launched in September 2017 with free training for local residents on how to run their own cinema. Three of these volunteers were involved in the pop-up cinema’s first screening at Oxford House.

The Hamlets will be back in November with a new movie from around the world, which will be screened at another venue in Tower Hamlets. Follow this blog, or The Hamlets on Facebook and Twitter for more details.

Balik Arts director Yesim Guzelpinar (far right) with film-goers after the first screening of The Hamlets Pop-Up Cinema at Oxford House, Bethnal Green, East London


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