I've been following “Teta Alf Marra” since the 2010 Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF); this is a long, protracted story. My mother called to tell me she had watched this great film and that I had to see it. She said it was about a Teta (grandmother) and I was, understandably, confused...She assumed it would play at TriBeCa in New York, and it did. I had read about the film and was absolutely interested in seeing it. I bought my tickets the minute they went on sale, excited for the premiere, and I even blocked off my schedule that day!
My tonsillitis was so bad at an hour before the premiere, that I was at health services being given steroids as the doctor told me that if I waited any longer, my tonsils were going to block my breathing. I still considered going, but was sent to an ear, nose and throat specialist for further tests... Meanwhile, I was most upset about missing the film.
Then, this past summer, I was in Montreal and found out that the film would be screened at the Montreal World Film Festival. Again, I got really excited to see it, but had to go back to Doha and missed it by one day. At this point I was beginning to think that my relationship with “Teta” was cursed. I followed it on Facebook, and saw announcements for international screenings with a sense of defeat- everyone on earth was going to see this film before I did. Every review talked about how cute it was. Cute. I needed to see Mahmoud Kaabour's Teta. I needed a cute film about a teta. I already felt like I knew her! Was it ever going to come back to New York?
In early December, it finally did. I told all of my friends, bought my tickets in advance and was at the IFC theatre twenty minutes early.
This is a cute film. Super cute. His Teta is my Teta and your Teta and all our Tetas. When Mahmoud introduces his blonde fiancée Eva for the first time to Teta, she is very nice to her - but doesn’t shy from reminding him that Arab girls are prettier. She’s mildly placated that Eva can speak Arabic and tells him that Eva has a nice figure, as consolation. I told you, she is all our Tetas!
Kaabour allows us to mourn the passing of our older family members, their impact on family ties, and their history, while shining an affectionate light on their quirkiness. Together, Mahmoud and Teta Fatima conjure distant memories that screen on the window behind them. We see a Beirut of a different time, when successful violinists wore tarabeesh (an Ottoman red felt hat, or fez, worn by men) and strolled the black and white streets.
Teta Fatima is now 85, so she spends most of her time at home - smoking a lot of argilleh (shisha, hookah), reminiscing about her house full of children, and her beloved deceased husband, who Mahmoud not only looks like but is also named after. In the film, his love, awe and respect for his grandmother shine through vibrantly and transfers through to the viewer; you almost want to visit her in Beirut to share an argilleh with her while she tells you about her life. The film is only 48 minutes long, and the viewer is absolutely left wanting for more time with the inhabitant of that sun-drenched Beirut apartment, with its windows open to the sounds coming from the street below.
The New York Times called it "delightful" while Variety gave the film a terrific review. The Huffington Post reviewed it under the title “Magical”—although the rest of the review did discuss the need for a “Western understanding of the Arab spirit” *- sorry, Huff Po, a little confused about what that is and where to find that? More importantly, the shared humanity and delight in loving your Teta enough to make a film in tribute to her is beyond endearing without being overly sentimental. His Teta is delightful!
I came out of the film vowing to call my own Tetas more often. Maybe they'll tell me about how pretty Arab girls are? A confidence boost never hurt.
This article was originally published in Kalimat – Winter 12, Issue 4.