Radically subjective and minimalist Salhab’s experimentation with the noir genre is intriguing, with a riveting performance by actor Fadi Abi Samra.
A forty-something man (Fadi Abi Samra) is being driven to the Beirut International Airport. Suitcase in hand, he pauses for a few seconds in the middle of the airport’s hustle — then suddenly turns around, rents a car and leaves. In the wintery landscape of Lebanon’s countryside, he drives north to the mountains. The man does not seem to be acting on impulse. He reaches a hotel that looks completely deserted in the off-season. Locked in his room, he closes the windows and shutters, gradually surrendering to the state of near-total isolation he seemed eager to create. Days and nights pass, and the man experiences a series of intense emotional states while remaining almost mute. Is he atoning? Expiating a sin or a crime? Hiding out? Sorting through an intense personal crisis? Does it matter?
This is the crux of director Ghassan Salhab’s radical feat: the creation of a fiction entirely divorced from reality, an unequivocally pure cinematic experience during which the viewer witnesses a drama unfolding, but does not rely on the basic narrative keys commonly used to unlock meanings. The Mountain is essentially unadulterated emotion, freed from the confines of story. Its visually riveting compositions — layers of blacks and whites with a velveteen palette of greys in between — are intensified by a rich soundtrack featuring Johnny Cash, Louis-René des Forêts, Mazzy Star and Raed El-Khazen. Salhab recreates with meticulous acuity the deep and overpowering sensation of some saturation or rupture that drives a person to seek refuge away from his life. Lead actor Abi Samra’s performance delivers that affective charge with pitch-perfect subtlety.
The film ends just as mysteriously as it begins. In the clear blue sky, Israeli airplanes circle ominously, a sight all too familiar in this troubled country. Death, the tireless threat of war and a surfeit of emotions are salient elements of both everyday life and filmmaking in Lebanon. –TIFF
Ghassan Salhab (Arabic; غسان سلهب, born 4th May 1958) is a Lebanese screenwriter, film director, and producer. Salhab was born in in Dakar, Senegal to Lebanese parents. In Addition to making his own films, Salhab collaborates on various scenarios in Lebanon and in France, and teaches film at ALBA and USJ. He has directed three feature films: Beyrouth Fantome, Terra Incognita and The Last Man. He has also made numerous short films and videos, including: Posthume, Narcisse Perdu, My living body, my dead body, La Rose de Personne, Afrique Fantome, and Apres la Mort. He has published his texts and articles in Various magazines. His fourth feature film, 1958 Autoportrait d’hier, was screened at Cinema Metropolis / Empire Sofil on May 4, 2009. —wikipedia