Taming by Nidal Aldibs
by Latika Padgaonkar
You leave the cinema hall slightly unsettled after viewing Nadal Al Dibs’ latest film Taming. Like having experienced the real and the unreal. The film had its world premiere at the recently concluded Abu Dhabi Film Festival as was part of the Narrative Competition. Set in Damascus to begin with, the film moves into the desert, and you begin to wonder whether the magic of the desert haunts the senses of the characters or the viewer or of both.
A graduate of VGIK film school, Syrian director Al Dibs’ first feature, Under the Ceiling (2006), too, had this enigmatic quality, where lovers are trapped in an apartment with a leaky ceiling, unable to reconcile with a past that interferes in their lives.
The storyline of Taming, if it can be called a storyline, is simple, and the film seems to be divided into two in terms of mood, style, location and intent: a young mechanic is in love with a lovely, wealthy girl, in defiance of her family’s wishes. The girl’s brother, a policeman, tries to nip the relationship in the bud.
One day, on an impulse, the young lovers drive off into the desert for a joyride in a borrowed car. Their happy moments end in a crash. When the boy wakes up much later, all bruised and shaken, the girl has disappeared. Her fate will remain a mystery.
From then on, Taming slips into a mystical-magical state, away from the city and into the desert. The young man (for once, thankfully, a character with a difference: weak, cautious and fearful with nothing particularly heroic about him save that he is amiable) is a wreck. Looking madly for the girl, and drowned in sorrow and humiliation, he meets an older man, a recluse, living in a shack, plucking the feathers of birds he has killed, surrounded by a throng of stuffed falcons (the falcon is a symbol of liberty, freedom, and victory. We presume, therefore, that it symbolizes hope to all those who are in bondage whether moral, emotional, or spiritual). He, too, is harbouring an unexplained anguish, and a strange relationship develops between the two (“it’s not uncommon to come across such people,” Al Dibs told me). The older man is alternately cynical, philosophical, eccentric and taciturn, and the contrast with our nive protagonist is total. “The dead judge you more,” he says, “because they live inside you. There is a predator inside each of us.”
Is it the presence of the desert which converts a simple story into a meditation on freedom and forgetting? That’s how it appeared to me, thanks to the surprising images and conflicting emotions the film stirred. But Nidal Al Dibs’ reflection was different. “The girl wanted to be in a wide open space. But the desert, in fact, is closed and limited. There is nothing there. You need to return to yourself.” Does the older man, given to idleness and feather-plucking lead the younger one to freedom? Again, it would appear so. But Al Dibs turns it around. “The older man,” he says, “wants the younger one to be a part of the solution to his own problems. Anyone who may want to lead us to freedom may in fact lead us elsewhere.” A subtle political comment, this one, in a region where, in the words of the filmmaker, “there is no political freedom.” And introduced with a lightness of touch into what is essentially an existential drama.
Dir: Nidal Aldibs
Producer: Haitham Hakki
Screenplay: Nidal Aldibs
Cinematography: Joud Korani
Editor: Raouf Zaza
Music: Kinan Al Admen, Isam Rafeh
Producton Company: ReelFilms – Haitham Hakki
Cast: Salloum Haddad, Mohanad Kotesh, Kamar Khalaf, Eyad Abou Al Chamat, Doha Al Dibs