[Atlanta Film Festival] Are You Glad I'm Here (2017) - Reviewed

Are You Glad I'm Here screened at ATLFF

Are You Glad I'm Here (2017), directed by Noor Gharzeddine and written by Samuel Cyrenius Anderson, is a dramatic film with touches of comedic relief.

It's the story of an unraveling marriage which takes a turn for the worse juxtaposed against the growing social and emotional bond of friendship between two dissimilar women. The film follows a non-linear narrative of the crime juxtaposed against the simmering tensions between Nadine and her husband Pierre, and Nadine's growing friendship between herself and her American friend Kirsten. The film is full of twists and turns which drive the narrative and create dramatic tension.

Gharzeddine weaves together many visual elements to create a compelling film set against the backdrop of Beirut and the breathtaking landscape of Lebanon's mountainous countryside. Close ups and medium angle shots are interspersed with wide angle shots and aerial shots and the film incorporates both day and night and interior and exterior footage. I liked how the story is framed and contextualized within the context of a country to give the film a depth and complexity. Some of the most bizarre scenes involve Kirsten in the convenience store and her first visit to her neighbour’s apartment. One of the sweetest scenes in the film is seeing the two women transcend boundaries of class, race and identity singing a duet together on the terrazzo of their building. One of the most difficult scenes to watch was the scene involving physical violence against Nadine, and the subsequent aftermath. One of the funniest scenes involves Nadine's brother figuring out how to dispose of the corpse. One of the most powerful scenes is seeing Nadine on her hands and knees mopping up the blood from the floor. One of the most uplifting scenes was seeing her brother and his friends come to her rescue.

Marwa Khalil plays Nadine, the long suffering stoic wife in an abusive marriage. Tess Harrison plays Kirsten, an American expatriate teaching English in Beirut, who befriends Nadine. The two women strike up a friendship. Khalil's portrayal of Nadine is intensive and riveting and she is equally matched in the performance of Harrison's portrayal of Kirsten, a quirky, slightly off, independent, young, opinionated, loose-tongued American woman. Khalil's performance is nuanced, complex and multi-faceted rendering a sympathetic and relatable character. Symptoms of battered woman syndrome get played out in the film. Yet, there is more to Khalil's portrayal of Nadine. She infuses her character with aspects of the femme fatale oozing sexuality, beauty and charm, and she is captivating to watch. The camaraderie between the two women and their deepening friendship is touching. A good film is not without its villains and Pierre, Nadine's husband, played by Najeeb Zeitouny plays his role superbly as the creepy, abusive, narcissistic husband.

The film resonated with me on many levels and raised many philosophical questions. How far would I go to cover up a crime regardless of the mitigating factors? Why do we as individuals and society as a whole stand by idly and allow inequality to fester and grow? Aren't we complicit as bystanders when we fail to act and intervene when the situation calls for it? The film shines a light on domestic abuse and the myriad forms it takes from psychological and emotional abuse to physical assaults, and highlights the toxicity of masculinity and its effects when men behave badly and act with impunity which is not only egregious to their partners but to all of us. Are you glad I’m here is an intriguing film. It’s well-written, directed and acted. I highly recommend it. 

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-Stefan Chiarantano