On paper, the very idea of Tramontane makes it sound like it was fabricated in a laboratory with the idea of making the most stereotypical foreign language feature possible: a blind musician embarks upon a journey of self-discovery in Lebanon. On screen, director Vatche Boulghourjian’s film is quietly affecting. Rabih Ralek (Barakat Jabbour) is a young, blind musician living in a village in Lebanon with his mother and uncle. The need to obtain a passport sends him chasing a paper trail to find his birth certificate, which is curiously difficult to do. He discovers that his “mother” in fact only met him for the first time when he was three months old, setting in motion a road story of sorts as he seeks to uncover his origins.
Noble in intentions and subtly gripping, Rabih’s journey has moments of true poignancy, and Jabbour (who is himself blind) plays the role with a quiet dignity. He walks confidently through sun-drenched landscapes he will never see, all the while trying to find the truth of his own story. Boulghourjian’s camera often swoops and lurches behind Rabih, emulating his style of motion – movements that are executed from memory, creating a sense of intimacy without any artifice.
The whole film deals with what could easily be perceived as negatives with a perfunctory and appropriate matter of factness. Rabih’s lack of vision elicits empathy, though not sympathy, and he’s never portrayed as a poor downtrodden person with a disability. Likewise, references to the war (the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 until 1990) are given with a wearied resignation, a shared horror, the memory of which has seemingly almost been normalised (though of course not justified) in contemporary Lebanon. There’s the impression that aspects of Rabih’s journey are designed to draw rough parallels with Lebanon’s recent history, and yet this is barely discernible and the film refrains from overt political commentary. Minimalist, at times beautiful and disconcerting, Tramontane is an unexpected pleasure.
Tramontane is released nationwide on 22nd September 2017.
Watch the trailer for Tramontane here: