Criterion Prediction #75: Out of Life, by Alexander Miller
Title: Out of Life a.k.a. Hors la vie
Director: Maroun Baghdadi
Cast: Hippolyte Girardot, Rafic Ali Ahmad Hussein, Sbeity Majdi Machmouchi Habib Hammoud
Synopsis: Patrick Perrault (Girardot) is a photojournalist taken hostage by Islamic Guerrillas while covering the Lebanese Civil War. Inspired by the true story Roger Auque, who was held in captivity by Hezbollah during the war for 319 days, Baghdadi’s film focuses on the mechanics of his captivity and his encounters with Lebanese fundamentalists who are both brutal and sympathetic.
Critique: There’s a list of afflictions (casting, exposition, speechifying) that hurt movies with a political agenda in Western culture. Context is muddled when a familiar star is cast as a president, dictator, or general. Which is why the discovery of a director like Maroun Baghdadi, and his film Out of Life, feels so fresh and vital since it’s so far from what we associate with such cinema.
Out of Life was something of a shock in technical terms. Opening with roaring scenes of combat, brimming with explosions, gunfire, artillery, and helicopters, the scale of this production is a potent example of unimposing realism. The location photography and intricate production design paired with straight-up good direction makes Out of Life feel distinctive in the category of political war movies. The striking quality of Baghdadi’s film is that it’s an ambitious production with a percussive, rough-hewn, verite style – imagine if Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City had the pyrotechnics afforded to a major Hollywood production.
While I don’t have much of a reference point for the Baghdadi’s other work (since it’s difficult, nearly impossible to find any in North America hence purpose of this article), Out of Life is a type of neo-realism that feels so different it might even negate the definition – and yet the utilization of bombed-out locations and non-professional actors reinforce this categorization.
Out of Life isn’t reliant upon explosions and bullet fire but it’s entirely necessary and relevant to the material at hand. However, for a movie of this type, there’s very little preaching and message heavy moments in this tertiary fact based reconstruction. This is a consolidated narrative effort; focusing its strength on the details of Perrault’s captivity – Out of Life proudly wears the credentials of “based on a true story” without posturing or exploitation.
In relation to its incidental relatives (it evokes movies like Salvador, Missing, and The Confession) Baghdadi wields the strength to outflank even the most ardent makers of political thrillers in a way that applies force to previously undiscovered pressure points; unobtrusively consistent in its creation of tension to an all-encompassing degree.
There’s no shortage of suffering, and we too suffer through the painful moments of Perrault’s captivity. The assertive aesthetic wears our senses to a delirious and hallucinatory mental state that reinforce the sandpaper-on-teeth like sense realism. The ramshackle hideaways, storage rooms, squats and bombed out street shanty’s make up the bulk of the settings. I’d be shocked to learn if any of this was shot on a soundstage.
The paranoia and psychological turmoil of making a decision as simple as lifting a blindfold, or peering out an opening is grating; one specifically unnerving moment where Perrault is mummified in packing tape and trafficked across Beirut in a hollowed out trunk bottom is harrowing; not for those pained by claustrophobia.
The view of Out of Life is intentionally narrow in scope; this is about the captivity of Patrick Perrault and trials he endures. There’s a sympathetic voice of humanism that resounds regarding the plight of the Lebanese Civil War, but Baghdadi whittles the story to a concentrated punch, I’d say that’s the point. A riveting film demands a larger audience.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: I’ll plainly admit that without Wim Wenders’ documentary Room 666, Maroun Baghdadi and Out of Life would be a total blind spot. Most of these predictions are based on directors consistent with movies in the collection or hinted at titles. After doing some digging I learned that Out of Life could very well be in The Criterion Collection, but I don’t know if will be.
There are plenty of familiar filmmakers in The Criterion Collection, while some were previously unknown until their work received distribution through Criterion. Names like Renoir, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Fellini, are standard for film buffs, but the Criterion Collection introduced me to directors like Jaromil Jireš and František Vláči. And blind buying a movie like Marketa Lazarova is what makes The Criterion Collection such a surprising (and fun) distribution company. I’m sure, for many individuals Criterion would be their introduction to Maroun Baghdadi, and his film Out of Life.
After emailing Naja Al Ashkar, the director of the Lebanese Cultural Association; Nadilekolnas (or “Club for All People” who, in connection with Baghdadi’s family retain the rights to his body of work) I learned that they were very agreeable and happy to discuss the director’s work.
*Note this information was the result of personal correspondence, and strictly for personal use, and not on behalf of anyone else*