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Tramontane film review: a blind musician’s quest for identity turns his life upside down

A Cannes prizewinner, film features a visually impaired singer playing a musician who criss-crosses his country to discover who he really is, but who instead finds a people blind to their own bloody past

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 7:01am

3/5 stars

In Tramontane, a young blind musician in present-day Beirut discovers that the identity card he has carried all along is a fake, setting in motion a series of revelations that turns his life upside down. Written and directed by Vatche Boulghourjian, the film, which won the Grand Rail d’Or award at Cannes International Critics Week, took shape after a chance meeting between the filmmaker and his star, the visually impaired singer Barakat Jabbour.

Incorporating a number of live performances, Jabbour blends Christian and Muslim musical styles in a unique manner that mirrors his own confused identity. His character, Rabih, is preparing to tour Europe with his school choir when the authorities decline his passport application. After his family refuses to tell him the truth, Rabih sets off across Lebanon in search of his true identity.

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Rabih’s search for answers reveals a country reeling from an even greater identity crisis than his own. He scours the countryside in search of his uncle’s former war buddies – or anyone who might be able to tell him where he came from. What Rabih discovers, however, is a country living in self-imposed blindness, refusing to acknowledge its past.

The barren yet tranquil countryside conceals the bloodshed that once ravaged it, but Boulghourjian is careful to omit politics or religion from his film as much as possible. Instead, he emphasises that the Lebanese people share a common problem and, rather than attempt to explain the horrors of the past, the only way forward is to forge ahead.

Tramontane opens on March 8

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