With no spoken voices (apart from snatched moments from radios) or narration, Karim Kassem’s absorbing film Octopus – which won the top prize in IDFA’s Envision competition section – is an immersive and gently mesmerising delve into life in Beirut after the cataclysmic explosion that hit the port and shattered parts of the Lebanese city in August 2020.
To an extent it would appear that nothing has happened. Traffic fills the streets as usual; residents look out of their windows and children play in the streets, but as filming shots are tightened it is clear that windows are shattered; buildings damaged and by the side of the road rubble is still smouldering.
This is post-explosion Beirut, where people stare into the distance, barely smiling with thoughts of the incident still at the forefront of their thoughts. The film opens with the shot of a wheelchair on a balcony and an elderly man in a hospital bed – subsequent scenes take in all sorts of life in Beirut – from nun’s praying in a church through to youngsters playing football with the cranes of the port in the background, but while life can appear normal there is always a presence haunting the city.
Shots of empty streets, with crumbling walls and cars dented by the shockwave, form an elegy accompanied by an ambient score. The city is under construction and there is a strange eerie nature to how life continues even in its simplest forms. A builder sprays a red octopus onto a piece of wooden board that is intended to be part of the rebuilding process.
Snatched moments from radio broadcasts act as a kind of off-kilter narrative, whether it be reports of the president promising a full investigation and a promise to re-build the city, or a news story that the search for bodies still continues.
Octopus silently navigates a city trying to heal itself offering space for quiet thoughts in amidst the rubble. People stoically endure and simply get on with their life – but cannot escape memories of the incident.
Lebanon-Qatar-US, 2021, 64mins
Di/scr Karim Kassem
Production Screen Production, Doha Film Institute
Producers Karim Kassem, Moustafa Kassem
Cinematography Karim Kassem
Editor Alexi Bakri
Music Sugam Khetam