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Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous

A Syrian refugee falls in love with an Ethiopian migrant worker, but their relationship has more obstacles than they anticipated - quirky Lebanese parable of (failed) social integration premieres at the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival


Love isn’t always a walk in the park. Particularly if you are a refugee and your lover is an economic migrant from an impoverished country, both living in Beirut. Ahmed (Ziad Jalad) left Syria because of the war, while Mehdia (Clara Couturet) left Ethiopia in order to work in order to provide her family with financial support. She works as a housemaid and carer for a middle-class woman and her elderly father. The old man often spooks and even attacks the hapless young lady, who barely speaks Arabic. She feels vulnerable and despondent, and only find comfort in the arms of her lover.

Lebanon is now home to 800,000 Syrian refugees, and it received more than 1.2 million people at the peak of the Syrian War. What soon becomes evident is that the Lebanese are deeply racist and have little desire to integrate with their fleeing neighbours. Syrians are expected to observe a curfew from sunset until sunrise. A security guard callously warns Ahmed that he will not be able to find a job. Mehdia’s predicament is even worse, perhaps because her skin is darker. Or perhaps because she is a woman. Or perhaps for both reasons. This haughty society is prepared to discard her without hesitation. In one of the film’s most crucial scenes, Mehdia’s boss threatens to deport her housemaid if she does to play by the rules. She reveals that she paid for Mehdia’s visa and travel expenses from Ethiopia in exchange for her labour, a situation that suggests working conditions analogue to slavery. And there are people even worse off than Ahmed and Mehdia, such as the Bangladeshi servant Kookoo, who does not speak a word of Arabic. These people belong to different layers of a well-established hierarchy of discrimination based on nationality, race, gender and the ability to speak the local language.

Ahmed shouts “iron, copper, batteries” as he walks down the street, an action that he repeats throughout the film. Yet he has no such items to sell. Instead, he is suffering from a very mysterious disease. Wounds expel metallic pellets from his body, his skin gradually turning into a thick metallic crust. The doctor has no explanation for his condition. Yet our protagonist suffers no pain. On the contrary: he develops supernatural powers that will prove very handy. Kornél Mundruzcó’s flying refugee of Jupiter’s Moon (2017) will come to mind. Both films blend the fantastic and absurd with the Syrian refugee experience. French-Lebanese director Wissam Charaf focuses on wacky humour in order to craft a genuinely eerie comedy. Jillar delivers the quietly powerful performance required for deadpan, while Couturet caters for the most emotionally-laden moments. She is determined to remain with her lover, despite being constantly reprimanded and threatened by her boss.

The strange symbolism of the metal is connected to warfare: Ahmed isn’t the only Syrian with the unusual chemical element in his body. Another man has a prosthetic leg made of a very similar material, his leg was presumably blown off by an explosion. These are the wounds of war that refuse to heal. The message is clear: immigrants in Lebanon have it very hard in cold. Just like metal.

The characters of Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous fail to integrate with Lebanese society on various levels: cultural, social and cultural. The film title presumably alludes to the racist perceptions bestowed upon these people. This isn’t the first time a film director uses the word “dirty” in a movie title is order to describe the predicament of immigrants.

Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous has just premiered in the Official Competition of the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival. A simple a creative little movie, worth a viewing.

By Victor Fraga - 05-12-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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