Blind Sun (2015)

Blind Sun first published by

When asked who he is by a visitor to the house he is sitting, “No-one,” is how Ashraf Idriss (Ziad Bakri) instinctively responds. Right from the start of Joyce A. Nashawati’s feature debut Blind Sun, when a racist motorcycle policeman (Yannis Stankoglou) flags Ashraf’s car down and steals his papers, Ashraf’s identity has been in question. Whenever he is asked where he is from, he mentions Athens, or Paris, or Rome – but never his native home – and while the book that he reads is in Arabic, he speaks a smattering of French, English and Greek. For, in this Graeco-French co-production, Ashraf is a citizen of the world, and of nowhere – a stranger subjected repeatedly to the indignities of his immigrant status in a land where he is tolerated at best as a servant, certainly not as an equal.

Ashraf is taking up the latest in a succession of jobs, looking after a wealthy French family’s luxuriously appointed house – and pedigree cat – in the Greek countryside while they are holidaying in Paris. The time is a pre-apocalyptic not-so-distant future of heatwaves and water shortages, where everything is recognisable as allegorising the world of today. Global warming has taken hold. The Greek populace is economically enslaved – not to European banks, but rather to a multi-national corporation (named Bluegold) with a stranglehold over the water supply. There are violent protests in the capital. There is a vast divide between the haves and have-nots, as the affluent get away with breaking the rules while social services have broken down for everyone else. Ubiquitous – and not exactly welcome – refugees fall even lower in the hierarchy of desperation than the mostly impoverished locals.

This familiar world merely forms the backdrop to Nashawati’s feature debut as writer/director, all filtered through Ashraf’s subjective and increasingly internalised experience. Stuck in the family’s ‘isolated’ home, and unable properly to sleep, think or focus in the intense heat, Ashraf feels increasingly beleaguered by a mysterious intruder who is making his stay a living hell, even as he thirsts to live the life for which he is merely a temporary caretaker. The result is a claustrophobic reverie, where nightmarish visions and surreal masques punctuate the blinding, distorting yellow and orange light and the pervasive soundscape of chirping cicadas, barking dogs and ignored phones (the last a sure signifier that, with Ashraf, the lights are on but nobody’s home).

“The flames of hell are the suffering of souls that have lost their way,” says a Greek Orthodox priest (Yiorgos Gallos) in his sermon. Ashraf, paperless and stateless, is himself a lost soul suffering under the sun’s harsh glare – while another model for his retributive return from repression is the statue of an unidentified god, unearthed in the neighbourhood by archaeologist Alice (Laurène Brun). For there is something numinous about Ashraf’s subversive – and self-subverting – actions, as though he has become possessed by the genius loci, and is visiting a divine vengeance upon those who would transgress the ancient laws of hospitality. “There’s going to be a war, I feel it,” he tells Alice. “Or everything will burn. Everything will burn and disappear.” Whether the war that he has in mind will be over class, race or water is left unclear – but Ashraf himself will in the end fire the first shot.

There are more specifically cinematic paradigms on offer here too: the ‘Apollo Hotel’, with its improbably swanky interiors and dreamily melancholic chanteuse, is pure Lynch, hinting at the psychogenic fugue that is under way; while the scene in which a deranged Ashraf is seen repeatedly stabbing at a mirror evokes the alternative universes and/or paranoid schizophrenia of Donnie Darko (2001). To be sure, all here is not as it seems, with dreams interpenetrating reality, and the glaring blindness of the title dazzling and deluding the unwary viewer. Yet somewhere between the contrasting elements of fire and water around which Blind Sun is structured, there is much unresolved dialectic on the very real tensions – ecological and geopolitical – that plague us today.

Summary: Joyce A. Nashawati’s heatstruck dystopia is an elegantly shot, elliptical slow burn that leaves its allegorical enigmas unanswered.

© Anton Bitel