TIFF Review: 'Very Big Shot'

Very Big Shot (Film Kteer Kbeer)
(Lebanon/Qatar, 107 min.)
Dir. Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, Writ. Mir-Jean Bou Chaya, Alain Saadeh
Starring: Alain Saadeh, Fouad Yammine, Tarek Yaacoub, Wissam Fares, Alexandra Kahwaji
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF
One of the most memorable coups of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival is the “best bad idea” of Ben Affleck’s Argo, which gave a sweepingly Hollywoodized account of history, flipped the bird to Canadian audiences (who voted the film the runner-up for People’s Choice), and then went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. If Argo seems too big or mainstream for some festivalgoers, then film buffs who like their movies with a side order of subtitles will love the Argo relative Very Big Shot, which makes its World Premiere in the Discovery Programme this year. This wild co-pro from Lebanon and Qatar is like Argo meets Reservoir Dogs, but with a political heft one doesn’t usually film in Hollywood. World cinema fans rejoice.

Even seasoned filmmakers behind the biggest of Hollywood productions sometimes struggle to balance slickness and grit in action-comedies, so it bodes well for Beirut-born director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya that his first feature can stand alongside the heavy hitters at this year’s festival. Very Big Shot is both explosive and funny, coarse and polished, and rough and witty. The film runs with a novel plot akin to the fake movie scenario of the Canadian Caper in Argo when two drug-dealing brothers, Ziad (Alain Saadeh) and Joe (Tarek Yaacoub), decide to up their gam and graduate from being petty smugglers. They currently use a pizza parlor as a front, but going Hollywood lets their drug ring go international when the brothers learn that film canisters may bypass x-ray scanners at airports. Moving drugs and moving hostages, however, both need a convincing fake movie to make an effective smokescreen. It’s the best bad idea two drug dealers can find.

The brothers hire their director a bit like Tony Mendez recruits his crew when they call on a hack film producer named Charbel (Fouad Yammine) who is running up a mighty tab buying “special pizzas” from the Pizza Royal. Instead of making some crappy Canadian commercial venture, though, Ziad sees the Oscar as he makes his pitch to Charbel to make the movie. Their story is one that comes from the streets of Beirut and takes the cultural pulse for a Romeo and Juliet tale of forbidden romance as a Christian girl meets a Muslim boy and they profess their love despite social mores that say the two kinds shouldn’t mingle. As Very Big Shot spirals the farce into the larger community, the neighbours agree and the film finds the kind of publicity that even Hollywood can’t wrangle.

Charbel doesn’t know that the movie is all a hoax, though, and he fervently does he best to deliver the goods to his keen producers. Elements of fiction and reality creep onto the set and bring the film to life, much to the filmmaker’s chagrin, such as a hack actor and then his replacement who refuses to call himself a Muslim, even if it’s only a bit of role playing. Very Big Shot amplifies cultural tensions in Beirut for comedic and dramatic effect, which gives the film an air of immediacy even as it becomes more farcical. The film also becomes far more cinematic the more that Ziad propels himself into the business of making movies. (He relishes the cushy role of producer and takes every chance to nibble a melon or be fanned by production hands.) Fluid cinematography draws attention to the art of filmmaking as Very Big Shot evolves from rough and tumble to slick and cinematic, blurring art and life as the film within a film spills into the streets and the community surrounding the production becomes a part of the narrative. Some tonal shifts and issues with pacing notwithstanding, Very Big Shot proves highly entertaining as a satire that weaves multiple levels of commentary into one solid package.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Very Big Shot screens:
-Friday, Sept. 11 at Scotiabank 14 at 6:30 PM
-Sunday, Sept. 13 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema at 10:15 PM
-Sunday, Sept. 20 at Scotiabank 4 at 9:00 AM

Please visit www.tiff.net for more information on this year’s festival.
More coverage on this year’s festival can be found here.