Sunday 27 June 2021

Movie Review: Khabsa (2018)

A Lebanese romantic comedy, Khabsa (also known as What Did I Mess) tackles contentious social issues but derives most of its laughs from well-worn sources.

After four years of cohabitation, Naylah (Rola Beksmati) and Fares (Junaid Zeineldine) break-up. She wants to get married and have children. He is financially insecure and does not feel ready. His fledgling restaurant business is not doing well and the loan sharks are circling.

A few months later Naylah invites Fares to a dinner party and springs a surprise by introducing her new fiancĂ© Silvyo (Abboudy Mallah), a wealthy stock trader. To make matters worse, Naylah suggests to Silvyo that Fares is gay. Also invited to dinner are Naylah's friends Aliks (Matteo El Khodr), who is actually gay, and Mariyya (Tanya Nasr), who loves to smoke a joint. A long night of food, arak and weed is full of surprises.

Directed by Shady Hanna who co-wrote the screenplay with Mallah, Khabsa (which literally means "mess") is a vibrant and often funny farce exploring modern relationship dynamics in Lebanese society. With most of the events taking place at Naylah's house and over a single night, the film resembles a play. But fuelled by sharp retorts and good acting, Hanna keeps his cameras moving between various rooms and patios, and is always on the search for interesting angles and busy frames, the screen's corners, foreground and background always busy with activity.

Naylah, Fares and their friends are navigating morally evolving terrain somewhere between modern and culturally established values, and the film strides into traditionally less-mentionable topics including pre-martial sex, homosexuality, biological time-clocks, economic hardship, and dependence on alcohol and recreational drugs. For good measure, Khabsa also throws in the misalignment of sexual desire in middle age through the humorous sub-story of Fares' parents Salwa and Toni (Rita El Khoury and Tony Benn). Their spiky relationship, as well as Silvyo's late revelation, are both deserving of more than the allocated screen time.

Despite the compact running time of 100 minutes, the script leans too heavily on alcohol, weed and gay cinematic cliches for levity, and the middle act in particular starts to drag. But Khabsa is nevertheless a chaotically entertaining dinner party, everyone behaving erratically and nothing proceeding quite according to plan.

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