Whether it’s buying a Christmas gift, a birthday present or a wedding anniversary gift, you always want to treat that special someone with the perfect present. Whatever that will be, you will probably find it. Not only because you can order almost everything online, but also because there’s probably a shop nearby you can buy your present at. While Yusef isn’t that lucky, not living close by a store is the least of his problems when he wants to buy a gift for his wife. No, what he has to deal with is much worse, much more socially important and much too essential to not to bring to the attention of the world. That’s what first-time director and co-writer Farah Nabulsi must have thought when she created her short movie, “The Present”. She took his vital story and turned it into a meaningful, emotional and beautiful film.
It’s a special day for Yusef (Saleh Bakri), and his wife Noor (Mariam Basha) as the loving couple celebrates their anniversary. Together with their wonderful daughter Yasmine (Maryam Kanj), they’re ready for a celebratory day. Father and daughter are heading together to buy an anniversary gift, but once they set foot outside the door, their joyful day turns into a nightmare. To get the present, they have to cross the West Bank, which is not easy. Mostly because the soldiers at a nearby checkpoint are everything but reasonable. When being asked for his paper, Yusef shows his papers without any bad attitude, but still, the guards are threatening him, and he’s brutally requested to take off his belt, give his belongings to the guards and step into a cage. All in front of his daughter and just because he wants to get his lovely wife a thoughtful gift…
Yes, when seeing and hearing the story of people still having to deal with soldiers, segregated roads and checkpoints, it hits you in the face extremely hard. So congratulations to Nabulsi and her team. Not only for making this story heard but also for bringing it to life in the way they did it.
First of all, cinematographer Benoît Chamaillard (“To Each, Her Own”) and editors Hind Shoufani and Abdallah Sada (“Give Up The Ghost”) make this movie feel like a real-life documentary. The wide shots of the landscapes and the closer shots of the emotions bring every feeling to this film delightfully. If you combine this with the no-nonsense editing of the team and the absence of special effects, the documentary vibe really comes through. Ok, sometimes the silences in dialogues and the harsh transitions between scenes get the rhythm out of the film, but hey, nothing in life goes as smooth as you want.
That being said, the performances of the entire cast is wonderful. This movie is mainly about the struggle of Yusef and Yasmine when buying the gift, and so most of the scenes are between Bakri and Kanj. Bakri (“Bonboné”) brings fatherly emotions, love and passion to “The Present”. At first, his performance is a very humble one but when the movie reaches its climax, his acting becomes more impressive. Most of the dialogue between him and Kanj is non-verbal, and both of them have to bring the emotions to life with the gestures. That’s exactly what they do, especially Kanj. She delivers her performance with so much fragility, cuteness and emotions. Mariam Kamel Basha (“Mafak “), who plays Yusef’s wife, has only a handful scenes in “The Present”, but when she appears on the screen, she shows us touching emotions with her warm performance.
The movie received its world premiere at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and won the Audience Award for Best International Film at that same film festival. After that, the film went around the world and took home the Oscar-qualifying Jury Award for Best Live Action Film at Cleveland International Film Festival and the Grand Jury Award at the Cordillera International Film Festival. “The Present” is now making its way to the UK because it will be screened at Aesthetica Short Film Festival and Leeds International Film Festival. If you can watch the movie during one of those festivals, take that chance! Director Nabulsi and her cast and crew present you with a wonderfully made and fabulous performed movie about a very meaningful topic.
This film has qualified to be considered for a 2021 Academy Award and we feel it should go all the way!
Liselotte Vanophem, Film Reporter, Just Celebrity Magazine