“Tombé du Ciel“ is Wissam Charaf’s first feature film, although he has seen previous success with his short films “The Army of Ants”, which won the Audience Award at the Mediterranean Festival of Lunel and “A Hero Never Dies”. It has been a long story to get to Cannes. Wissam spent 10 years developing the script and securing finances, and then shot the whole film in 15 days. As Wissam mildly describes it, “it’s like preparing a stew for eight hours and eating it all in half an hour.”
“Tombé du Ciel” is being screened as part of the ACID selection.

The ACID selection is a hand-picked line up of nine films, and aims to provide visibility to filmmakers to aid with distribution. In a testament to the selection’s efficiency, “Tombé du Ciel” managed to secure distribution in France and world sales as soon as the film was selected. “It give legitimacy to a film that would have never been feasible on paper”, declares happily Wissam, “[The ACID selection] runs on virgin land; They try to go beyond the normal selection to foresee what’s going to happen in a few years and who are going to be the emerging directors. I’m very proud to be in it.”

The plot

“Tombé du Ciel” follows the story of Samir who returns home after a twenty-year absence to a family that thought he was dead. As he tries to reconnect with his brother and the rest of his family, he finds a country that has failed to face its past history. Samir must discover who he was in the past and who he is today. Wissam considers it “the story of today’s Lebanon in the shadow of yesterday’s Lebanon.” The past and heritages are the films main themes. It explores how the country and its inhabitants have been affected by it’s past and how it’s past is affecting the present. Wissam believes that there has been a forced amnesia and memory loss in the country and wants to ask how a country can cope with the heritage of civil war. “It’s not a first-degree social drama”, explains the director, “I wanted to tackle the subject in a indirect matter.”

The angle

While it explores the country’s dark past and profound topics, “Tombé du Ciel” mixes this with comic elements. The challenge of approaching a gloomy history from a comedic angle excited Wissam. He felt that a film filled with sadness and tears would be the easiest option, and one that had already been done. The characters in the film live in an absurd comic existence, from the father who continually repeats himself to a bodyguard who can’t put his gun together, to the guy who dreams of a new life in Germany through a drunken stupor. Wissam wanted the film to reflect his own character. He is a person who likes to laugh, and he feels that once you can laugh at a dramatic event, you have managed to go beyond sadness. In a similar vein, the film reflects Wissam’s experiences in Lebanon, as “there’s an indirect documentary aspect in the film. It’s a social political critique.”

The main cast

Rodrigue Sleiman and Raed Yassine play the two brothers in “Tombé du Ciel”. Raed is technically an amateur actor and has collaborated with Wissam on other projects, while Rodrigue is already one of Lebanon’s most established actors. Wissam wanted this contrast. Despite playing brothers in the film, the two actors do not look alike; either in shape, size or features. Wissam wanted this to add to the film’s absurd nature.

The funding

Another director might have given up on the project after failing to secure funding for five years, but Wissam endured for another five years mainly because of the film’s tone: “The problem is that when you are not known and you’re making your first film, everybody questions the tone of the movie. Is it comical or sad? And when you tell them that it is both, they don’t believe you.” Eventually the film got the funding it needed, although the budget for the shoot was tight. ARTE and the CNC were the two organisations that stepped up and believed in the project. The anecdote is that the film only received enough money to shoot a 45-minute film, but Wissam and his team were able to stretch it out enough to make a feature, which was their original intention.

Lebanese production company Né à Beyrouth worked as the film’s main co-producer. Né à Beyrouth and Aurora Films’ collaboration goes back to year 2005, when they produced together Wissam Charaf’s previous short films.

by Hugo Goodridge