Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Noise: How Fares' Jalla! Jalla! Manipulates Stereotype to Challenge Tradition

“...and every desire that we earn will guide us
alive, living, loving & searching. ”
“And how can we expect anyone to listen if we are using the same old voice?
We need new noise - new art for the real people”
New Noise,
both songs by the band The Refused, both used in Jalla! Jalla!

Jalla, like many words, is a word with multiple connotations, and could be seen as symbolic of what can become of our current age of communication: a ziggurat of power, with each stage ascending toward a smaller, dominant post which looks down upon the subsequent stages and can use their constructs, such as language, to ridicule and further dominate them. Fares is aware of this, and his film Jalla! Jalla! is used to subtly counteract this notion, in a very realistic way.

Not a lot about Jalla! Jalla! Is subtle. The story, though not formulaic, borders on simple; Roro is in love with Lisa, whom he can't introduce to his family (insert cultural stereotype/mos1 here), which in turn introduce him to Yasmin, who Roro – being a nice guy – decides to help out through marriage so that her family (re-insert cultural stereotype/mos) won't send her back to Lebanon. The only person Roro can talk to about this is Mans, his best friend, who is preoccupied with his own relationship failing, mainly due to his inability to face up to his erectile dysfunction problem. These stereotypes or mores are challenged in the film, and thus challenge this formal communication structure, but along the way we get a lot of crude humor and scenes that allow the movie to be palatable to those who may not normally find the social critique of the film immediately interesting.

One of the bases of the movie is that, despite tradition, marrying outside of your traditional “race” or ethnicity is acceptable. In fact, the movie celebrates this as its central theme. The only part that seems all that unbelievable is that, in the end, when he couldn't do it in their house several times, Roro finally tells his family of his love for Lisa, and the wedding is entirely ruined. Perhaps he thinks this is the only way that he can shake up Yasmin's family and show them how stodgy and traditional they have been acting, or perhaps it is a bombastic combination of refusal of tradition and pure love. This movie celebrates this term of pure love, unhindered by tradition, or perhaps bolstered by it in order to break through barriers of the past. Roro's uncle, at one point in the film, asks why that is all Roro talks of, “love love love. Is that all you think of?” We can definitely understand this if we have relatives that lived through the great depression or a war, as this kind of story is heard often: the forsaking of love is justified on the basis of necessity. How can we argue against this? Likewise, in today's world, where many countries (especially those of the first world) enjoy a good deal of affluence, shouldn't we try and seek a type of love based on something more than necessity? This is the central theme of Jalla! Jalla! and even if we know nothing of the mores of weddings in the Arab world, we can still understand the resonance of this message.

Likewise, we have a subtle challenging of masculinity in this movie. Despite the fact that Roro and Mans interact with a sort of cheeky homophobic banter, still we are shown how silly it is to base masculinity on matters of the penis, literally and figuratively. Mans is a sufferer of ED and despite his many efforts to the contrary, he simply can't find a way to make it work – the humor is of course in that he won't submit to a real doctor and confess his problems so that he could possibly overcome this. He tries shamanism, a penis pump, and several other ploys and finally he loses his girl because he can't resign himself to see a doctor. The irony is that he finally learns to overcome this problem when he is put in jail, in an entirely powerless situation.

Jalla! Jalla! Isn't meant to be a political doctrine to reform all life, but it challenges two very powerful constructs, those of masculinity and traditional “love.” It succeeds not because it takes these two concepts to their absolute ends, as there are still nods to tradition (which is very important) and homophobia (which is quite sad, really), but because it is on the side of the battle that is trying to change things that it can.