The Consequences of Neglect

When our needs go unduly neglected, frustration and the prospect of dire consequences can set in. That’s especially true when we must rely on others to come through for us, particularly when they make promises that are vital to our well-being. A failure to follow through on our behalf can get out of hand quickly, with potentially explosive results, an outcome depicted in the troubling new fact-based drama, “Breaking” (formerly known as “892”) (web site, trailer).

It’s  2017, and Iraq War veteran Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) is angry and frustrated – and with good reason. The honorably discharged Marine, who willingly and dutifully served his country, has been railroaded by the US government, specifically the Veterans Administration (VA), the agency charged with looking after the welfare of soldiers after completion of their service. His feelings of desperation, in turn, have evolved to desperate acts, all in an attempt to have his voice heard by an inept, discompassionate bureaucracy.

In short, Easley wants his $892 disability check, which he contends was wrongly confiscated from him by the VA. The Atlanta resident depends on that money to live, since he, like many veterans, is on the verge of homelessness. He was seriously affected by his wartime experience, having developed PTSD and other psychological issues, making it difficult for him to remain stable enough to hold down a job. His severe mood swings have also left him without his base of support – his family – specifically his now-ex-wife, Cassandra (Olivia Washington), and their young daughter, Kiah (London Covington), whom he positively adores. In many ways, these circumstances have left him a broken man, and now, he believes, authorities have conspired to break him even more, conditions callously thrust upon someone whom others have freely and repeatedly said would never hurt a fly.

Why does Easley believe the government has wrongfully taken his money? It’s because the funds were transferred and applied to an outstanding education loan debt, a practice allowed by law. According to Easley’s VA case worker (Miriam Silverman), whenever anyone owes money on such debts, repayment of the loan can be secured by any means available, including everything from wage garnishment to the seizing of benefit checks, like the veteran’s disability payments. The case worker feebly tries to assuage Easley’s disappointment by informing him that the transfer of these funds settles his outstanding debt obligation, but that’s small comfort, since it still leaves him with no money to support himself. She recommends that he try applying for VA benefits specifically aimed at staving off homelessness, but, when he sees the endless line of applicants awaiting assistance – one long enough to stretch across the expanse of downtown Atlanta – he loses it and is forcibly escorted from the VA office.

With seemingly nothing left to lose, Easley decides to take action. In an effort to make his case known and his voice heard, he walks into a suburban branch of a Wells Fargo Bank armed with what he says is a homemade bomb, threatening to blow up the facility if his demands aren’t met.

Quite surprisingly, however, in many ways, this isn’t what one would typically think of as a holdup. To begin with, he lets all of the bank customers and all but two of its employees leave peacefully. And, as for the two “hostages” he takes – bank branch manager Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie) and teller Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva) – he tells them that they won’t be harmed, that they’ll be released safely, even if he decides to detonate the device. He treats them respectfully and politely, never seriously threatening them and giving them a surprising degree of freedom to move about the building while in his “custody.” His politeness even extends to taking a message during an incoming customer phone call. But, perhaps most striking, he makes no demands for any of the bank’s money; he insists that any funds meant to come his way must originate with those whom he believes stole it in the first place – the VA.

Still, despite the unconventional circumstances in place here, the situation is nevertheless quite tense, conditions made worse by the foot-dragging of authorities in getting a negotiator in place to speak with Easley. It eventually prompts him to contact a local television station to try and get his story on the air. He calls WSB TV producer Lisa Larson (Connie Britton), telling her his story in hopes that the public will hear it. But Larson is torn about how far and wide to go with this conversation; she seeks a balance in covering a legitimate news story while not unduly interfering with authorities attempting to defuse the standoff.

With the tension ramping up, an array of police units from surrounding areas (including carefully positioned snipers) and throngs of news media conducting live remotes (including Atlanta-based CNN) descend on the area surrounding the bank. Recently appointed Police Chief Jack Quail (Robb Derringer) also arrives on the scene to confer with SWAT team coordinators like Major Riddick (Jeffrey Donovan) about the unfolding of operations. But the one who really stands to make a meaningful difference is negotiator Eli Bernard (Michael Kenneth Williams), an experienced mediator whose personal background mirrors Easley’s, theoretically making him the ideal candidate to speak with the perpetrator. And, to his credit, he’s able to cut through much of the bureaucratic red tape to get the negotiation process moving.

As Bernard holds talks with Easley, he endeavors to gain his trust, drawing parallels between what they have in common. He tries to smooth over matters as much as possible to bring about a peaceful conclusion to the standoff. He contacts Easley’s family to try to bring them into the resolution process. And he offers Easley modest incentives to draw down the tension. Meanwhile, the hostages attempt to provide solutions of their own. Like Bernard, they sympathize with Easley’s situation and sincerely want to make things right quickly and easily to prevent the situation from blowing up out of control.

But others in charge don’t appear to share the reasoned, compassionate approach employed by Bernard and the bank employees. Instead, they’re looking to bring the situation to a close in short order, without notifying the others working toward negotiating a peaceful solution. Can a moderated outcome result? Or will everyone’s worst fears be realized?

What are we to do when we feel we have nothing to lose, especially when it comes to making our stories known and our voices heard? That’s a tricky question, to be sure. The frustration that prompts such situations often causes us to act impulsively and from a standpoint of desperation. Superficially speaking, one might easily say that’s what drove the beliefs and motivations behind Easley’s actions (though, since no one was ever able to definitively get inside his consciousness, no one can say for sure). What unfolded in suburban Atlanta in July 2017 reflected what he believed at the time, for better or worse. It’s unlikely that Easley had ever heard of this school of thought, but his beliefs and actions nevertheless materialized what happened at the bank on that fateful summer day.

When we hold onto such impulsive and desperate beliefs, we walk a treacherous path, regardless of how justified we may feel about those emotions. And, based on what led up to the event, Easley certainly had good reason to feel that he had been jerked around by an uncaring system. The problem in that, however, is that such thinking can lead to the kind of fanatical behavior that occurred at the bank. When we become so irrationally focused on achieving an objective like getting heard under conditions where everyone seemingly turns a deaf ear, the outcome can be devastating – and tragic.

It’s not that Easley didn’t take steps to ameliorate his circumstances in advance of this incident, either. He sought assistance through supposedly proper channels. He struggled to preserve his composure. And he pleaded his case honestly and thoughtfully. Indeed, he did everything that was expected of him, and yet he still felt (and, arguably, rightly so) that those who were supposed to be looking after his welfare had seriously let him down. Indeed, how would you feel under such conditions?

Understandable as those feelings might be, however, they can lead to clouding one’s judgment, prompting irrational beliefs that spawn irrational acts. Why, for example, did Easley seek to hold up a bank to get his voice heard, especially one that had no particular nexus to his circumstances other than being the institution into which his disability checks were deposited? What did he hope to gain by that? Regrettably, this reflects what can happen when we become so focused on the outcome that we lose sight of the consequences associated with it, a practice that often yields results like those that unfolded in this story.

This is by no means intended to fault what Easley did. His situation, unfortunately, mirrored that experienced by many veterans upon returning home from war and trying to reintegrate into mainstream society, a process often fraught with myriad difficult adjustments. This points out the perils of beliefs associated with inflexibility. There can be seriously inherent dangers associated with such thinking, as evidenced here. And that’s important to recognize, given that the responsibility for what transpired involved not only what Easley did, but also the actions taken by those who prompted him to do what he did – the supposed caretakers of a system so focused on achieving what they wanted that they, too, lost sight of the consequences that accompanied their actions. They believed so fervently in attaining their objectives that they fell prey to this calamitous pitfall, including everyone from those managing Easley’s benefits to those overseeing his loan repayment obligations to those handling the standoff as it unfolded. Indeed, considering the responsibility at stake here, there’s plenty of accountability to go around, particularly in terms of how events ultimately played out.

But was nothing learned from this incident? While the outcome certainly had its tragic elements, one could argue that Easley brought his own brand of heroism to this situation by making the plight of veterans more widely known, by exposing the uncaring, bureaucratic nightmares that they often face in receiving the benefits to which they’re rightfully entitled – and promised. They served when called upon, and they should be treated in kind when their service is done, and Easley pled their case through his actions, heartbreaking though they may have been.

While many may disagree with what Easley did – and with what the system did to him – there was a certain quality of destiny associated with his standoff. As becomes apparent in the film, there’s a fateful element to what he did, something he seemed to sense as events unfolded, almost as if he was reconciled to what was about to occur. But, before the conclusion was reached, he managed to get the word out about what happened to him and his fellow veterans. It’s sad that it took something so drastic to make these matters known. We can only hope that his sacrifice was not made in vain – and that others won’t have to endure what he went through.

Justice ignored is indeed justice denied. What’s more, it’s an open invitation to things easily getting out of hand as the tension behind such situations is dialed up to an exaggerated level. That’s precisely what happens in director Abi Damaris Corbin’s second feature outing, an offering reminiscent of the film classic “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975). This scrupulously faithful retelling of the story of Brian Brown-Easley is a riveting, albeit disturbing, watch from start to finish, casting a long shadow of shame on those who lack the decency and humanity to care for those who made the effort to care for us. The picture’s stellar ensemble cast, which captured the 2022 Sundance Film Festival acting award in this category, is superb across the board, featuring some of this year’s best performances, including the best portrayal ever turned in by Boyega (who has come a long way from his “Star Wars” outings) and an excellent performance by the late Michael Kenneth Williams in one of his final roles. This Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize nominee is by no means an easy film to screen, but it’s one that anyone interested in seeing justice served should watch – and take action about to see that it’s not denied again. The film originally played on the festival circuit and is now available theatrically.

Neglect is rarely, if ever, acceptable, especially when an individual’s welfare is at stake. And those who cite rules and regulations in a flimsy attempt to absolve themselves are merely falling back on excuses to cover their backsides. As Brian Brown-Easley’s experience illustrates, such failings carry dire consequences, not only individually, but collectively as well. If there’s any good to come out of situations like this, fortunately, they expose the shortcomings of a broken system in serious need of reform, one urgently requiring strong infusions of compassion, understanding and remediation. Such is the bare minimum we should take away from this story in hopes that nothing like it ever happens again.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Satirizing a Fool’s Pursuit

Sometimes, no matter how sincere we may appear in taking on a cherished task, we might easily come across looking like buffoons – and not even realize it. Yet somehow we saunter on, striving to reach our goals, despite the obstacles and the odds being innately stacked against us. So what will become of such fool’s pursuits? It might help to take some guidance from the hilarious new mockumentary-style comedy, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” (web site, trailer).

Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his ever-devoted wife, Trinitie (Regina Hall), used to have it all. As the founders of Atlanta’s Wander to Greater Paths Baptist megachurch, the preacher and his “first lady” amassed a huge following – not to mention a vast personal fortune. They lived high on the proverbial hog, with an ostentatiously huge home, a fleet of high-end cars, and a wardrobe of designer clothes and shoes that would make Imelda Marcos green with envy. They even accumulated enough cash to pay off the county’s outstanding debt, a bona fide example of their civic magnanimity. But everything they stockpiled evaporated virtually overnight when allegations of improprieties surfaced allegedly involving the pastor’s questionable behavior with young men, prompting an unending exodus of parishioners – along the funds they contributed. In fact, were it not for a number of out-of-court settlements, things could have potentially been a lot worse.

But, after several years of laying low while quietly drafting agreements with the aggrieved parties, Lee-Curtis and Trinitie now want to get back on top. Having not admitted to any official wrongdoings, they believe they’re well positioned for a comeback, one slated, fittingly enough, for launching on Easter Sunday. They’re convinced their effort will bear fruit in abundance, once again allowing them to successfully save souls. However, in carrying out this mission, they must first answer a key question: Can they save themselves?

After a prolonged hiatus, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown, left) and “First Lady” Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall, right) anxiously await the return of their departed throngs of parishioners to their Baptist megachurch in the biting new satirical mockumentary, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” Photo by Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC, courtesy of Focus Features.

To chronicle the course of their institution’s rebirth, they hire a documentary filmmaker (Andrea Laing) to chart their progress. And the making of that film thus provides the narrative basis of “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” The result is a classic mockumentary offering in the same vein as movies like “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984), “Waiting for Guffman” (1996), “Best in Show” (2000) and “A Mighty Wind” (2003), with the fundamentalist megachurch community as the hapless target for ample loads of justified comical comeuppance and scathing skewering.

As the film progresses, viewers bear witness to a series of hilarious bits that mercilessly satirize the often-ludicrous nature and blatant hypocrisy of these institutions, the kinds of scandals often found in tabloid headlines and that eventually make their way into the mainstream media. The holier-than-thou attitudes that permeate the over-the-top screeds of these glamorized, supposedly sanctimonious evangelists are exposed for their often-two-faced messages, revealing their messengers as the second-rate conmen that they truly are. And much of it is delivered with adept comic flair, although some decidedly dramatic sequences are thrown in for good measure to heighten the impact of the picture’s overall intent.

Along the way, viewers are treated to an array of colorful supporting characters, such as Keon and Shakura Sumpter (Conphidance, Nicole Beharie), the polite but schemingly insincere co-pastors of a rival parish that siphoned away much of the WTGP flock in the wake of Pastor Childs’s scandals – and that’s now also planning to celebrate the opening of its new home on the same day as its would-be-resurgent peers. Then there’s the core five (Robert Yatta, Greta Marable Glenn, Selah Kimbro Jones, Crystal Alicia Garrett, Perris Drew), a quintet of clueless, hopelessly devoted members of the WTGP congregation who have chosen to stand by their preacher no matter what anyone else has said. And, of course, there are the ever-so-genteel church-going ladies, like Sister Danetta (Olivia D. Dawson), who flash their plastic smiles and skillfully display their phony façades to avoid doing anything that might suggest they’re even the least bit un-Christian-like. Viewers even meet the source of the most reliable church gossip, Yvet (Elle Young), the hairdresser at the local mall.

Naturally, in scenarios like this, everything that could conceivably go wrong eventually does, with all of it faithfully caught on film, making the challenges of resurrecting the parish in line with its timetable that much more difficult. It thus prompts the implementation of increasingly desperate measures, such as Lee-Curtis and Trinitie standing by the side of a nearby busy highway and waving signs to promote the reopening of the church, all of which carry messages parroting the title of this film. But will those plans work? Wait till Sunday rolls around to find out.

Perched upon their humble thrones, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown, right) and “First Lady” Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall, left) discuss their plans for a comeback after a fall from grace in writer-director Adamma Ebo’s sidesplitting new comedy, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.,” now playing theatrically and online. Photo by Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC, courtesy of Focus Features.

Getting back what we’ve lost can be difficult, if not impossible. That’s especially true when those losses are attributable to circumstances of our own making, those that subsequently raise questions about trust, accountability and worthiness of redemption. In fact, in many instances, it may be better to simply let go and strike out in a new direction. But, for those who can’t bear the thought of giving up what they’ve lost, such a step may be just as challenging as walking away. That certainly seems to be the case with Pastor Childs, but what is he realistically to do?

It would seem that the preacher needs to take stock of his beliefs and assess them for what they are and what they portend, for they will shape what unfolds going forward. He may not have heard of this school of thought, but it would certainly behoove him to learn about it and put it to use in his life, particularly if he doesn’t want to get caught going in circles that will take him nowhere – not back to where he was nor on to anything better.

Consider the position he’s operating from. He steadfastly insists that he wants to get back to where he was, but look at what that ultimately got him. It left him disgraced, untrusted (save for Trinitie and the core five) and out of the limelight he once so relished. And, if he now thinks he can just snap his fingers and somehow be magically transported back to what he had, he’s seriously deluding himself, no matter how earnestly he may hold on to that notion. And, what’s worse, he can’t even see how the beliefs he clung to in the past brought him to where he is now.

To begin with, as flashback clips from the pastor’s sermons reveal, he was a hypocrite par excellence. His bombastic tirades against the evils of same sex relationships, for example, may have effectively stirred up the emotions of his predominantly conservative congregation, yet he was himself accused of inappropriate behavior with young men (a scenario not unlike what happens all too often in real life, I might add). And, even though the signing of his settlement agreements may have officially absolved him of anything untoward, the accusations cast enough doubt to keep him from being trusted to the same degree he once was.

What’s more, despite the Herculean efforts he went to in trying to protect his name and reputation, he obviously didn’t learn his lesson, either. That becomes apparent in one scene where he attempts to less than subtly (yet ultimately unsuccessfully) proposition one of his documentarian’s assistants (Devere Rogers). He obviously still seems to think that he can get away with anything and not incur any retribution, just as he did in the past. Does he really believe he’s that untouchable? It takes a stern warning from Trinitie to remind him of where is he now and how he got there, as well as what repeating his past behavior could do in derailing any of his hopes and dreams for the future. It’s a sentiment further echoed in a tense confrontation between the pastor and one of his accusers (Austin Crute), who unreservedly observes just how “irrelevant” the preacher has become during his prolonged absence from the public eye.

Keon and Shakura Sumpter (from left, Conphidance, Nicole Beharie), the polite but schemingly insincere co-pastors of a rival parish to the recovering Wander to Greater Paths Baptist megachurch, discuss their plans for the future of their organization in “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” Photo by Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC, courtesy of Focus Features.

Yet Lee-Curtis fervently believes that he can do no wrong, that he can get away with anything, that he can indeed operate from a position of God-like status. On top of that, he believes he can ostensibly rise from the dead and resume where he left off, as if nothing happened. He’s so focused on attaining his goal that he’s convinced himself he can willfully ignore the ramifications of what happened and what could very well happen as he moves ahead. His penchant for seeing things from this standpoint represents an inherent disregard for the responsibility that comes with using one’s beliefs to materialize one’s existence. And that can be fraught with consequences far more impactful than any of us can possibly imagine.

The pastor also fails to recognize that, when we stumble and fall by the wayside, others will often step up and take our place. Case in point – the rise of co-pastors Keon and Shakura Sumpter. Even though they may be inherently almost as sleazy as Pastor Childs, they’ve successfully managed to fill a void with their ministry. And, even if the comeback cleric were to be impeccably squeaky clean, he would still have to overcome the rise in popularity that his rivals have attained. Can he accomplish that? Moreover, can he do so without resorting to underhanded or vindictive ways, measures that could potentially taint his image even further?

As becomes apparent the further the film progresses, the odds truly are stacked against Lee-Curtis and Trinitie, no matter how hard they work at fulfilling their objective and regardless of how contrite they are (or appear) in doing so. While everybody is deserving of forgiveness – particularly when one toils sincerely to earn it – that doesn’t mean it’s going to pan out as hoped for or to the degree being sought. In the meantime, such a fool’s pursuit can lead to the needless expenditure of energy and resources that could be put to better use in other more promising endeavors. What’s more, engaging in desperate measures aimed at recouping what was lost can make one look ridiculous, particularly those that call for gimmicky behavior and the donning of garishly hideous outfits, such as the alleged designer finery that the pastor and first lady often sport in the film. Indeed, sometimes one is truly better off to let go and let God, advice that the woeful protagonists might be better off heeding themselves.

To drum up interest in the resurgence of his parish, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) urges motorists on a busy highway to “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” in writer-director Adamma Ebo’s sidesplitting new mockumentary of the same name. Photo by Steve Swisher / © 2021 Pinky Promise LLC, courtesy of Focus Features.

Nobody likes hypocrites – unless, of course, they make good fodder for laughs, and such is the case in this hilarious new comedy, one that genuinely evokes ample chuckles, even in the face of its underlying serious subject matter. This mockumentary-style offering about a religious power couple as they attempt to rebound from a fall from grace pulls no punches in its critically biting humor and in its periodic forays into dramatic material, moves meant to draw attention to the innate insincerity of its protagonists (and some of its parishioners). In doing this, the film admittedly straddles a fine line between comedy and drama, presenting a carefully concocted mix that works much of the time but that occasionally becomes a little too heavy-handed for its own good. And, all joking aside, some viewers might easily become offended by this material, so they should carefully consider their decision to screen this offering. Nevertheless, “Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.” makes an impact with its fine performances by Sterling K. Brown, Regina Hall and its excellent supporting cast, as well as its wickedly delicious wit and abundant sight gags, elements that will have viewers delightfully giggling with glee. This one might not have you on your knees, but you might easily fall over laughing. The film is currently playing theatrically and for streaming online.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with practicing our spirituality and allowing our connection to the divine to flourish within us. Whether we do this in quiet devotion or a group setting, it’s all good as long as it’s pursued with heartfelt, genuine sincerity. But, when ecclesiastical charlatans intercede and insist that they must speak on our behalf, especially when it comes to determining the course of our personal and spiritual well-being, we should consider switching on our skepticism radar, particularly when their recommendations are accompanied by imposing caveats and disquieting qualifications. Our celestial connections are our own, and our decisions to honk for Jesus and to save our souls should rest squarely with us as well.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Engagement vs. Escape

Staying engaged with the pulse of life is arguably the best way to get the most out of our existence. However, there are times when the pressures of everyday living can wear on us, making us feel as though we have to get away, especially if we believe that it’s placing our health, sanity and well-being in jeopardy. Retreating from such conditions can be rejuvenating and put us on a happier and more fulfilling path. But such isolation also has the potential to become a trap, despite the ostensibly pleasant circumstances associated with it, a conundrum examined in the new domestic/ecological drama, “Costa Brava, Lebanon” (web site, trailer).

There are times when life stinks – literally. Such is what happened in Beirut beginning in 2015, when a huge landfill closed and the government made no contingency plan to replace it, causing garbage to spill out onto city streets unchecked. The incident prompted the formation of a civil uprising movement that began with the trash and later expanded to include protests over civil representation, corruption and government inefficiency. Subsequently, the problems worsened with a national financial crisis, the COVID pandemic and what turned out to be the world’s third largest explosion. Needless to say, Lebanon had become a problematic place to live.

For the free-spirited Badri family, they saw the handwriting on the wall before any of these developments emerged. They tired of the increasingly difficult way of life in Beirut with its increasingly toxic pollution and social unrest. So, to escape these conditions, they decided to pick up stakes and move to a remote mountain sanctuary that they painstakingly created themselves. Over the course of a decade, they gradually built what they came to see as their own little utopian paradise, one premised on sustainable living, healthy environmental conditions and freedom from the stresses of the urban lifestyle.

Seeking refuge from urban life in Beirut, Lebanon, the idealist Badri family moves to a wilderness sanctuary of their own design, including parents Walid (Saleh Bakri, second from right) and Souraya (Nadine Labaki, right) and daughters Tala (Nadia Charbel, left) and Reem (Ceana Restom, Geana Restom, second from left), as seen in the new domestic/environmental drama, “Costa Brava, Lebanon.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Spearheading this effort were activist Walid Badri (Saleh Bakri) and his wife, famed musician Souraya Marwan (Nadine Labaki), who met during the many political protests Lebanon experienced years earlier. They eventually married and had a daughter, Tala (Nadia Charbal). However, after years of struggling with the difficulties in life in Beirut, they decided to begin anew in the wilderness. They relocated with Walid’s mother, Zeina (Liliane Chacar Khoury), and, once settled, gave birth to a second daughter, Reem (Ceana Restom, Geana Restom), eight years younger than her sister. While Tala had had some experience with urban living, Reem was exclusively a child of nature. And Zeina, though glad to have a roof over her head and caretakers at her disposal, never fully embraced the neo-hippie lifestyle, accepting it begrudgingly and definitely missing some of the ways of city life.

Despite these differences in experience and outlook, the five family members have spent the past 10 years making a new life for themselves. But, just as they have come to believe that this existence has finally and firmly become established, a huge new wrinkle has emerged: The government has begun work on building an enormous, supposedly green landfill and recycling center, a complex that borders directly on the Badris’ doorstep. It’s opened with much fanfare, including a nationally televised speech by the Lebanese president (Dimitri Saba) and the arrival of a glad-handing manager, Tarek (François Nour), whose presence is intended to help establish good relations with the facility’s neighbors.

However, the family is anything but pleased. To begin with, no prior notification of the construction appears to have been provided. But, perhaps more importantly, they don’t believe the government’s claims that the facility will indeed be environmentally friendly, given its longstanding track record to the contrary. Officials contend that, because the center is being built with international financial backing, it must comply with green management practices, but, as the family soon discovers, those promises ring hollow. Trash that’s supposed to be processed for recycling is simply buried as is, and garbage that’s supposed to be buried is burned to make room for greater volumes of waste, sending ash in the direction of the Badris’ property.

The family is outraged, to say the least, but they each react differently to these developments, threatening to tear the household apart. Ever the activist, Walid, who has a reputation for being a loose cannon, seeks to file lawsuits against authorities, though it quickly becomes apparent that these initiatives are destined to go nowhere, further fueling his temper and his obsessive behavior. Harmony within the household is quickly jeopardized, especially in his relations with Souraya, who urges Walid to take a more realistic, less isolationist view of their circumstances. Meanwhile, the sisters become divisive in their support of their parents, especially when Tala’s adolescent curiosity veers into areas that draw varying degrees of disapproval from virtually everyone, but most notably her father. And Zeina, whose age is beginning to get the better of her, grows increasingly complacent about the landfill situation and shows more concern about being able to obtain a travel visa to visit her daughter, Alia (Yumna Marwan), Walid’s younger sister who has been working as a financier in Colombia for the past 15 years.

With a new supposedly green landfill now bordering their mountain sanctuary property, the Badri family seeks to cope with its improper practices, like illegal trash burning, as seen in director Mounia Akl’s new domestic/environmental drama, “Costa Brava, Lebanon.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

This scenario thus serves as a microcosm of what’s been happening in Lebanon’s citizenry at large – the discrepancy in attitudes between those who want to remain actively involved in the nation’s everyday life and those who want to retreat into obscurity and be left alone. Who will win out? And what impact will it have for both the country’s environmental status and its social cohesion? That remains to be seen, both for the family and the population in general. It’s a precarious position for both entities to be in – and one that carries serious implications for each.

Given the conditions that the Badri family (and many like them) have experienced, it’s understandable why they’d opt to get away from it all. Indeed, we’ve all felt the need to retreat into our own seclusive bubbles from time to time. But, as the social beings that we naturally are, how realistic is it that we can expect to stay there indefinitely, separate and apart from our peers? Is this truly a case of finding a space that will bring us unadulterated bliss, or are we deluding ourselves, merely going into hiding and cutting ourselves off from the living world? Good arguments can be made in support of both paths, and they each have their own intrinsic validity, but their viability ultimately comes down to what we do with them. And this is dependent on the power of our beliefs, the underlying foundation of each of the foregoing options.

The Badris are certainly to be commended for taking a chance in intentionally going off the grid. They’re committed to living out their idealism, something most of us only dream about but never act upon. And they set an example for the rest of us to follow, whether it’s figuring out how to make sustainable living work or to just muster up the courage, commitment and conviction to successfully pursue a cherished goal. Those kinds of affirming beliefs are certainly laudable and worth emulating.

With tension in their household heating up, Walid Badri (Saleh Bakri, left) and his wife, Souraya (Nadine Labaki, right), seek to hold their marriage together when confronted by the challenges of a new landfill being built on their doorstep in “Costa Brava, Lebanon.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

But at what point do they become hallmarks of obsessive, potentially impractical behavior? For years, Walid has endeavored to create an environment for his family to help them thrive without the hindrances of stressful urban living, a noble pursuit, to be sure. He’s been especially diligent about this where it comes to his daughters’ development, teaching them honorable values and giving them the freedom to create what they will. However, these virtues have come at a cost by coercing them to function within the restrictions of this alternative lifestyle, one that gives them little appreciation of or exposure to the wider outside world. The allegedly protective shell he’s built for them has, in its own way, become a sort of naïvely idealistic cage, one whose bars have become ever more reinforced with the encroaching intrusion being erected next door. The landfill is thus symbolic of the world at large seeking to burst the bubble and bring itself into the lives of the family, something that all of them (but especially Tala and Reem) will need to know how to deal with if they hope to survive in the greater existence of which they’re a part.

The more Walid tries to keep the outside world at bay, the more strain it places on the household. His idealistic beliefs are thus starting to reveal their innate shortcomings, aspects that could undermine the harmonious paradise that they were designed to manifest. Indeed, when someone becomes so fixated on the purity of his or her principles to the detriment of everyday practicality, impending trouble becomes a real possibility.

The presence of the landfill is undoubtedly a genuine nuisance, especially given the circumstances under which the facility has been constructed and operated. However, it has its purpose. Perhaps it’s to help keep the idealists grounded, to help keep them from losing sight of the conditions of the wider reality. Perhaps it’s to reinforce the family’s idealism, prompting them to engage in activism aimed at pointing out and subsequently overcoming the problems of such institutions. Or perhaps it’s intended to help the family address long-simmering issues that have been quietly overlooked and have finally reached a boiling point. Any or all of these scenarios could be plausible, but whatever the actual purpose might be, its very existence proves that it’s something not to be ignored. In this story, it’s something that the family needs to examine and deal with if they hope to preserve paradise going forward, no matter what form it may take.

With society collapsing around us financially, ethically and environmentally, there may be a strong desire among some of us to escape these conditions in an attempt to find hope, health and happiness in an idyllic sanctuary, one free of negative influences and built on principles of fairness, freedom, creativity and sustainability. But is such an idealistic exodus truly realistic, especially when the world’s ills are still capable of intruding on such a utopia? And how will such an imposition affect those well-meaning social refugees? Will they be able to cope, or will they collapse under the weight of their own inflexible idealism?

Sisters Tala (Nadia Charbel, left) and Reem Badri (Ceana Restom, Geana Restom, right) become divisive in their support of their quarrelling parents in director Mounia Akl’s new domestic/environmental drama, “Costa Brava, Lebanon,” available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Those are the questions raised in this domestic/ecological drama, the second feature offering from director Mounia Akl. Set in the near future but based on the issues of Lebanon’s recent past, the film provides prime examples of “out of sight, out of mind” solutions on both sides of this issue, game plans that ultimately have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. It’s truly illuminating in its depiction of the parallels between what’s going on in the household and what’s happening next door, though sometimes their subdued treatment makes them feel somewhat underdeveloped and not entirely clear, particularly in the picture’s occasional satirical and surrealistic sequences. Nevertheless, the filmmaker’s attempt to serve up a distinctly different type of story with sublimely engaging psychological and sociological aspects makes for a noteworthy cinematic experiment, one that will likely appeal to those with eclectic sensibilities. And who said trash couldn’t be interesting?

The picture has been a favorite on the film festival circuit, winning a number of awards, and had a brief theatrical run. It’s now available for streaming online.

How wonderful it would be to live in a perfect world. It’s something mankind has dreamed of throughout much of our collective existence, and there’s nothing insurmountable preventing us from working toward achieving that goal. But, given the current state of our development, we still have challenges to overcome, and running away from them is far from an effective solution. Striking an optimum balance between active engagement and tempered recuperation, when needed, would appear to offer us a wise course to follow, helping us realize our objective while preserving our personal welfare. And there’s no trash talking in that.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.