director's note / producers' note / from the press / review
Puzzled by the emptiness of my village Aïn al-Halazoun, and by the frequent conversations I had with my uncle Semaan, I wanted to shed light on this strange phenomenon which led my uncle to abandon his urban life and return and settle in a no man’s land village.
How come this man was able to come back and to overcome the scars of a past full of pain and blood? Why did the others decide not to come back? Were they held back by the fear that the war might happen again?
For me the film is an inquisition about a reconciliation that took place a long time ago, but still did not reach a minimum level of credibility to make people tolerant enough to forget the past and return trustfully to the confines of their village. It is a quest for clues to try to understand the psycho-sociological facet of those who preferred not to come back. (Simon El Habre)
The Civil War in Lebanon shamed the entire people. The One Man Village is one way to try to understand not the war itself but its aftermath and the questions of memory and healing.
How can we stay indifferent to the life of a man, Semaan, who tries against all odds to set a sample, showing that life could continue despite the crimes, the massacres, the wars…?
For exactly these reasons and for the urgency to accentuate this genre of human approach this project touched us as independent producers, who, like Semaan, believe that life has to go on.
The One Man Village is such an example.
We know that we are expected to give a historical background when making a film about a region or a specific war so little is known about abroad. Yet we know that there are many contradicting versions of writing history, we do not want to write an additional one but rather open up and listen to what people have to tell.
The data given in the synopsis will need to do. As this film is about the confusion of amnesia and the question of how to integrate the horrors of (civil)war into life, we prefer to carefully listen to the people in the film, to observe them emphatically and open new channels of perception.
In international wars the war parties separate again after ceasefire, after a civil war everybody is still there. Civil wars happen permanently all over the globe. (Simon El Habre, Jad Abi Khalil, Irit Neidhardt)
From the Press
A wonderful work, in every aspect. (radioeins, Knut Elstermann)
A gem that features one of the festival’s (Hot Docs) most appealing characters, The One Man Village is a superb document of war’s impact on a changing countryside. (NOW Magazine, Suzan G.Cole)
Simon El Habre certainly emerges as a talent to watch, and his gift for composition and mood indicates he could be equally comfortable in the fiction arena with his next. (Screen Daily, Fionnuala Halligan)
[…] Though coming up with countless magical images, Lebanese documentary „The One Man Village“ is not a fiction film. Director Simon El Habre is visiting his uncle Semaan in the village of Ain El-Halazoun, where he is living alone with cats, chicken and cows for the last five years. The Lebanese civil war has depopulated this area in 1982, and the wonderful film shows in a touching way how a man seeks refuge in an idyll in order to hide the deep scars. A film full of poetry and simple worldly wisdom. (Berliner Morgenpost, Eberhart von Elterlien)
Semaan bey, his animals, his visitors, and the land itself speak to us of otherwise unspeakable hardship, grief, and the possibility of beauty and peace in our world. […] Simon El Habre shows us a man living in beauty, in peace with his former enemies. We have a chance, if we listen to stories like this one. (Groundreport, Avery Hudson)
„The One Man Village“ is the haunting portrait of a complex, forgotten landscape, frequented mainly by the older generation as a phantom-place occupied with souvenirs of their memory. […]
Reaching far beyond the own, familial access and horizon Simon El Habre succeeds in “The One Man Village” to show the landscape as space of memory. With reluctant distance he tries – as still-life and in well-directed and yet casual conversations – not only to understand his uncle but also the psycho-social facets of those who preferred not to return to the village. (taz, Bettina Allamoda)
Thrilling, painful, mature and very well done. It announces the birth of real cinematographer, who combines courage and talent. A film that has no place for hatred. (Al-Akhbar, Pierre Abi Saab (review for World Premiere in October 2008)
A film that goes under the skin. (Al-Mustaqbal, Reema Mismar)
It looks like, this film is the major cinematographic event of the year 2008 in Beirut accomplished with courage sensitivity and professionalism (the dramatic construction, the editing, the cinematography...)The young director shows us reality with a sincere and transparent vision. He depicts the story that is partly a personal experience. […] He does not compromise for the sake of marketing and mass audience. The artist is a witness, a citizen present in the centre of his work.
(Al-Akhbar, Pierre Abi Saab (in an article about Lebanese film year 2008, January 2009)
Each story in the film provides a glimpse of the history of Lebanon and the situation of a country half-way between forgetting and remembering. A film in which horror and beauty, pain and poetry are side by side. An unobtrusive reflection on origins, ties forged with places and people, the consequences of war and the attempt to accept painful memories as part of one’s life. (Berlinale, Forum Booklet)
Besides the comforting forgivingness and humanity, that this film illustrates despite the omnipresence of the war in the memory of Lebanese society, I have to mention its photographic expressiveness: One could have watched it also mute and with still images – tough one would miss Semaan’s unbeatable humor – but would still understand what this, by the way very sympathetic, documentary filmmaker wanted to tell the audience. (Minerva.jimdo.com, Frauke M)
Alone with his herd - by Fionnuala Halligan for Screen Daily, London, December 29, 2008
Simon El Habre brings a painterly vision to the unexpectedly involving tale of his uncle in the elegiac, low-key documentary The One Man Village. Frame after frame of careful compositions work to build his portrait of a Lebanese village devastated by war where now only one man remains, tending to his animals. Wistful, but never tragic, The One Man Village gives us an unchanging landscape in a fast-changing world. What’s remarkable in this story is first-timer El Habre’s confidence in spinning out his 86-minute story. It’s a full 20- odd minutes before he introduces another character to the piece; 35 minutes before any explanation is given for what happened in Aïn al-Halazoun that left it so destroyed (the exact
reasons are never fully detailed). Wide festival exposure is assured, although other markets will be tricky. Word of mouth will be a vital tool in getting this seen. Simon El Habre certainly
emerges as a talent to watch, and his gift for composition and mood indicates he could be equally comfortable in the fiction arena with his next.
After a brief moment with El Habre’s uncle, Semaan El Habre, and his cat Zizi, The One Man Village kicks off as the cock crows with a beautiful establishing long shot taken outside the house in the dark as the day dawns in the crisp Lebanese snow. The one light at Semaan’s house is enough to convey his solitude; he explains the small farm used to belong to his grandfather and his father moved the family there – all 13 of them – when he was little. But Semaan’s parents died when he was very young, and they could no longer manage the cows; five years ago Semaan moved back to Aïn al-Halazoun and is now the proud owner of some very good-looking, suspiciously clean cattle, bearing names such as Princess Vicky, Mrs Hanouni and Mr Misk (the calf). A gorgeous gray horse is also part of the family. The slightly other-worldly Semaan keeps a meticulous log of all the momentous occasions, such as “marriages,” in his livestock’s lives. “It’s nice to live in peace and quiet,” he says, as he sings the cattle to sleep.
Regarding his own marriage, the no-longer-young Semaan is waiting to finish the bathroom first, he tells his nephew. El Habre’s story shows the scars left by Lebanon’s bitter civil war, both on the landscape, where the destroyed Aïn al-Halazoun once housed 45 families, and internally, for Semaan and other villagers who come back regularly to till their land although
they will never return. “Our children know nothing of building and planting,” laments one. “Soon, nobody will come.” Still, 20 years later, his “witnesses” chose to forget much of
what happened in these mountains outside Beirut, and The One Man Village has narrative holes which may get in the way for some viewers (Semaan’s past, for example). With his artist’s eye, almost still-life compositions, and fluidity in the HD-CAM format, though, Simon El Habre captures this moment in time both precisely and movingly.