nobody movie_ “Mediterranean Fever”: Cannes Review | reviews

Dir/Scr: Maha Haj. Palestine/Germany/France/Cypresses/Qatar. 2022. 108 minutes.

We don’t always know what other people are going through: that’s the teaching of Mediterranean fever, a gentle drama about depression and life choices set in Haifa’s Arab community. Writer-director Maha Haj’s second feature film follows the unlikely friendship that develops between a struggling writer and his mysterious new neighbor who may hold the key to solving his writer’s block. This thin story is enhanced by the performances of Amer Hlehel and Ashraf Farah, who skillfully portray men each grappling with secret struggles that they cannot always articulate.

It can be challenging for an actor to play a depressed person who not only appears sluggish but Hlehel gracefully embodies the character

This is Haj’s second film to be screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard – her first, Private businessaired in 2016. An understated mix of comedy, thriller and character study, Mediterranean fever is so muted that its commercial prospects may be dampened, but as an exploration of masculinity and insanity the film could certainly find a spot at future festivals.

Waleed (Hlehel), a Palestinian living with his wife and young children in one of Haifa’s poorer areas, dreams of becoming a writer but finds no inspiration. He suffers from severe depression and meetings with a therapist who gives him no relief. But the breakthrough comes in an unexpected place: Waleed meets his new neighbor Jalal (Farah), who is also starting a family, but seems much tougher and assertive than the melancholy Waleed. Pretty soon, Waleed deduces that this man is involved in criminal endeavors and asks to spend time with him as his book is set in the world of crooks.

Haj positions these two men as perfect opposites. At first, Waleed is put off by Jalal’s brusque behavior. (Jalal is the kind of neighbor who always plays his music too loud, no matter how many times Waleed asks him to turn it down.) But predictably, a bond begins to form between them nonetheless Mediterranean fever skillfully keeps them at bay, never allowing their fundamentally different temperaments to find total common ground.

So what brings these two men together? First, it’s Jalal’s willingness to give Waleed a glimpse into his world. Hardly a high-profile criminal involved in sexy, high-stakes schemes, Jalal mostly tries to take down people who owe him money, in large part because he owes money to some dangerous individuals of his own. But there’s something about Jalal that Waleed needs to understand his lifestyle that he can’t share with his wife – an understandable dilemma considering he has a mistress by his side.

Hlehel is great as Waleed, who seems constantly slumped, his inability to find joy in his life visualized by the blank computer screen on which his novel is set to appear. It can be challenging for an actor to play a depressed person who not only comes across as sluggish, but Hlehel gracefully embodies the character’s struggle to not give in to the sadness that is overwhelming him. That said Mediterranean fever changes gears about halfway through when Waleed Jalals seeks help with a personal project – one that no one in his family knows about. This request will cement the bond between the two men, although it also reveals unspoken tensions within Jalal.

Perhaps that’s why it’s Farah who ultimately gives the sharper portrayal. While Waleed outwardly struggles with depression and feels less manly than Jalal, we’ll find his cocky new beau has issues of his own. The film’s final moves revolve around a slightly forced twist, but Farah helps sell the surprise by having his performance retrospectively fill in the blanks about why that happened. Haj sees these men as wounded souls, each holding on to their own coping mechanisms while trying not to appear too weak. Which is mildly amusing, but ultimately tragic Mediterranean fever is that they don’t realize how much they actually have in common.

Production companies: Pallas Film, Still Moving, AMP Filmworks, Majdal Films

International sales: Luxbox, jennyfer@luxboxfilms.com, marie@luxboxfilms.com and fiorella@luxboxfilms.com

Producers: Baher Agbariya, Thanassis Karathanos, Martin Hampel, Juliette Lepoutre, Pierre Menahem, Marios Piperides, Janine Teerling

Production design: Andreas Antoniou

Editor: Veronique Lange

Camera: Antoine Héberlé

Music: Munder Odeh

Starring: Amer Hlehel, Ashraf Farah, Anat Hadid, Samir Elias, Cynthia Saleem, Shaden Kanboura

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