GAIFF Pro Critics Campus: We Are Inside

English Daily #2
by Botagoz Koilybayeva

In We Are Inside, director Farah Kassem returns home to Tripoli, Lebanon after years away to reconnect with her aging father, the poet Mustapha Kassem, a devout defender of the conservatism of classical Arabic poetry. But what is the point of vivid metaphors at a time when the county is still engulfed in the post-Arab Spring uprisings?

In this diary-like meditation on the poet's isolation, Kassem captures her 82-year-old father by and large indoors: at home, at the hospital, at the poetry club, or in a car. The outside world is instead glimpsed mostly through windows — whether the car’s or the flat’s — a choice that only heightens the claustrophobia of Mustapha’s reclusion.

Clocking at an impressive 177 minutes, the film’s slow pace and non-diegetic soundscape further add to the sense of sublimity which envelops Mustapha’s life. Oscillating between being in front of and behind the camera, the director assists her father in creating what feels like an ecosystem of rhymes, metaphors, and allegories.

Kassem lingers on the images of birds nesting on her bedroom window, conjuring a poem not through words but visuals. Sufi mystics, who renounce life, are symbolised as birds returning to their nest. Towards the end, Kassem leaves her father’s own, roaming Tripoli to document the 2019 protests. As if to shatter Mustapha's quiet bliss, music enters the film, announcing Kassem's own cinematic poem: a tribute to her father's unwavering devotion to his craft, and Kassem’s own attempt to find meaning in his legacy.