Lebanese writer and director Philippe Aractingi has been entertaining audiences with his films since 2005. His first feature “Bosta” (2005) achieved critical acclaim, as did his follow up film “Under the Bombs” in 2007. He made a return to his roots, both literally and metaphorically, with his 2013 documentary Heritages. His latest project, “Listen”, is a divergence from his previous projects, and he will be showing it at the Film Market in Cannes this year.

His previous work has focused on the civil war, but this time round he left that subject alone. “It is on purpose that I have decided not to go back…[I wanted] to do a universal story in pure fiction for many reasons: Firstly, because I think what I did before was sort of a trilogy, about the past and my relationship with the past. And secondly because I’ve also wanted to do fiction and stories to make people dream, laugh, cry…you know, normal stories.”

Listen follows Joud, a young and introverted man with a passion for sound. His world is turned upside down when the love of his life is taken away from him, and he tries to use sound to bring her back. As the time he has without her grows longer, Joud has to face a decision whether to stay faithful, or choose life and stop waiting. Director Philippe was struck by the reported statistic that in Lebanon there are eight women to every man, and while some men might delight at the thought of this, he wanted to explore “how do you love and what do you do [to stay faithful] in that context.” The film ranges a spectrum of themes, including fidelity, love, relationships, passion and loss; but the principle themes are sound and listening.
Sound infiltrates multiple layers of the film, from the script to the characters, through the soundtrack and into the edit: it operates through the protagonist’s reserved nature and his way of hearing the world, and across the director’s work, with the help of his sound editor, Rana Eid. As Philippe describes it, “It’s not shot in POV [Point Of View], but rather in POE [Point of Ear]. It’s really about how you listen. A lot of sequences start with sound, the shots come later.” He mainly wanted to make a film about listening in a country where nobody is listening to each other.

Philippe was very keen for the film to have a strong element of suspense, from the beginning right till the end, which was mostly achieved in the editing phase. “I cut the film three times in order to keep the tension very tight; the first edit was two-hour long. I removed 10 minutes the second time. And for the final edit, I restructured the whole timeline.”

“Listen” was produced by Fantascope, Philippe’s own company born out of his frustration with getting films produced in Lebanon. Initially Aractingi was planning on securing half of the budget from Middle Eastern private equity and the other 50 percent from different international sources, but found it difficult to procure money from France, so was forced to lower the budget; however he was able to get additional funding for post-production.

While “Listen” is still in post-production, it was screened in Cannes for sales agents, to try and secure distribution in France and also to attract the attention of other festivals.

by Hugo Goodridge