The Brooklyn Film Festival - Are You Glad I'm Here
Wednesday, May 30th. I meet with director Noor Fay at Amber, a sushi restaurant on West 70th street, to discuss her first feature film: Are You Glad I’m Here, recent winner of Best Original Score and Best Feature Narrative at the Brooklyn Film Festival. Having watched the film myself the night before, I’m excited for the chance to pick her brain: where did the idea for the film come from? What was the production process like? Noor answers my questions with ease. She tells me of her Lebanese heritage, and her screenwriter, Sam Anderson’s, studies in Arabic. We discuss the difficulties of filming on a low budget, of finding the perfect cast, and the skill required to bring the soft, specific beauty of the Lebanese countryside to the screen. I tell Noor that I expected the movie to end with her two female leads intertwined in a sexual relationship, and she laughs.
“Yeah, I guess I can see why you’d think that.”
Are You Glad I’m Here is in no way a sexual movie -- it’s refreshing, I realize, to have a drama about a female friendship where there’s no sexual undertone. There is, however, plenty of violence -- at first easy to ignore, like static background music, but then sharp and spiked -- gasps of forte after an entire composition in piano.
The movie opens on Kirsten (Tess Harrison), a young American teaching abroad in Lebanon. She’s at once identifiable as that liberal arts educated expat -- someone with a sense of higher morality who has adopted their own standards of right and wrong: stealing is acceptable, but domestic abuse? Not at all. Her character in is direct contrast to Nadine, played by Marwa Khalil. Unlike Kirsten, Nadine lives by the standards set by her society. She despises her husband, his wandering eye and his violent outbursts, but her fear of shame is greater than her desire for freedom.
Nevertheless, the two women find themselves slipping into an easy friendship. There are several scenes dedicated to the pair laughing, bonding over shared senses of humor and shared bottles of wine, seemingly ignoring the deeper troubles that plague them. This all comes to a head, however, when Nadine, in an act of self defense, strikes and kills her husband in front of a shell-shocked Kirsten.
From then on, there is a drastic shift in the tone and styling of the movie -- so much so that the second half of the film reads like a sequel to the first. Kirsten is on the verge of irrelevance -- the focus is instead on Nadine, dealing with the physical aftermath of her actions, hiding her secret from her family, and navigating how to break the death of her husband to her son.
But the lack of Kirsten is made up for with Nadine’s family. Their dynamic with her is full and beautiful -- the words Nadine exchanges with her brother are near poetic, benefiting from the pleasing sound of Arabic. It’s a relief when they are not revealed to be the tyrants we fear -- we are reassured that Nadine is now in good hands, capable of facing the future with them by her side.
It’s true that Are You Glad I’m Here has flaws -- ones that can’t be compensated for with stylish cinematography or interesting shots. Nonetheless, its ability to blend two cultures and languages into a cohesive, compelling movie, not to mention the clear passion and hard work behind it, makes the film worth a watch. But feel free to decide for yourself: check out the trailer below, or visit the film’s instagram page: @areyougladimhere.