Berlin 2011 Review: ODEM (Lipstick)

rating: 0.5

When the director of Nader and Simin, A Separation, the Iranian Asghar Farhadi, was asked what he made of being in the same competition as an Israeli film here at Berlinale, he was noble in sentiment. "Films are very expensive to make" he said, "so I hope they can all win prizes regardless of which country they are from." Everybody applauded this spirit of cinematic brotherhood and we all felt that a blow had been struck in the name of world peace. It was an emotional time. Yet had Farhadi the chance to see that rival film, Odem (or Lipstick in English), I'd like to think he'd have been less diplomatic. Odem is without a shadow of a doubt the single worst film I have seen in the official selection. It is one of the worst films I have ever seen in any context in fact, with its relative brevity its only selling point. The Jonathan Sagall directed film - set for the most part in London (signposted by the obligatory shot of a landmark: in this case Tower Bridge) - is an amateurish, sub-student film. The title refers to the gloss we wear on the surface and the person we pretend to be, and it's a film about two people living a lie, with Clara Khoury playing a Palestinian lesbian who has married a British man and had a son. The central drama revolves around the sudden appearance on the doorstep of her errant former lover, as played by Nataly Attiya, and the story of their past together as teenagers in Palestine is also told via flashback. Both actors are stilted and unconvincing, perhaps due to the fact that they are working in a foreign language, with the bulk of the dialogue in English. To intensify the earnest drama the characters are given stock problems plucked from some sort of character creation rolordex. Khoury's character is among the least believable screen alcoholics ever. She occasionally gets a hip flask out and swigs vodka, whilst people reference that she has a drink problem. But it manifests itself in the disapproval of others. She is never drunk or even tipsy (even when we see her at a party, she is a picture of sobriety) and her complexion is healthy enough. It's especially comical when she is clearing up from a party the night before and decides to drink the last dregs of an anonymous beer bottle. Why she would do this is anyone's guess, as she has her vodka and presumably there is more beer in the fridge of her huge, middle class home. It's a contrived moment in a film with nothing but such cliché moments. Meanwhile, Attiya's apparent vice is that she is "loose" or "easy". She proudly proclaims that she doesn't wear underwear at one point saying she's "ready for Freddy" - whoever he is. The last minute plot twist concerning her character is just ridiculous and, far from shedding new light on the proceeding events, makes less sense of everything. The young actresses who portray these characters in the flashbacks are considerably more likeable and charming, but the scenes in Israel are no less troubling or trite. I could go on but I think you get the picture. Everything in this film, from the cinematography to the writing, is horrifically bad. And the film's resolution is bizarre when it's aiming to be poignant or tragic. What a terrible shame as Israeli cinema has experienced an otherwise excellent last half decade and looked to at least guarantee a certain measure of quality, like that of Iran, South Korea and Romania. Farhadi was right of course: It doesn't matter where a film comes from. But sadly for Jonathan Sagall it does matter whether a film is any good.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.