BEIRUT: In a Q&A session during the premiere of her first short fiction film at the Busan International Film Festival, Lebanese film director Farah Shaer was asked how her film, “I Offered You Pleasure,” was allowed to be made in Lebanon.
The 14-minute film, which tackles the issue of short-term “pleasure marriages,” perhaps wouldn’t have passed the notoriously strict Lebanese censors had it been on general release, but created as it was, for the final project of her Communication Arts degree at the Lebanese American University, Shaer didn’t have to face those battles.
Optimistic about the state of the film and theater industry in Lebanon – in part due to the fact that many productions have moved here from Syria and Egypt over the past two years – Shaer is vocal, however, about the censorship problem.
“There is no word to describe censorship and how it’s ruining lots of projects for us. Censorship is our main problem and I hope that one day we will succeed in overcoming this,” says the director, who also acts. “You can’t talk about religion, you can’t talk about sex, or show nudity, or deal with lots of habits and traditions going on in Lebanon.”
But “I Offered You Pleasure” provides all of these, as it follows a Shiite woman, Imane, and her attitude to these pleasure marriages, using them to have short-term relationships with men, in exchange for money, all the while condemning female peers for not being veiled.
From a Shiite family herself, Shaer was inspired to make the film after realizing the hypocrisy that often exists: Many of her friends were using the pleasure marriage contract, often just so they could kiss their boyfriend, while at the same time criticizing her for having male friends.
“If you want to do a pleasure marriage, do it, I’m fine with that. But don’t criticize people who have a sexual life.
“They’re lying to themselves, and they’re hiding behind the excuse that this is halal. Do it, that’s fine, but don’t say that this girl who is not wearing the veil is not as good.”
The film also tackles the differences between the sexual expectations of husbands and wives, and the freedoms awarded to female and male members of the same family: One female character is seen preparing for her traditional wedding ceremony, while her younger brother stays out all night and courts sex with Imane.
And while Shaer didn’t have to contend with Lebanese censors, after posting the trailer on YouTube, she received a lot of negative feedback, with individuals mounting campaigns for the trailer to be taken down.
The trailer had received over 10,000 views in the first week, and, Shaer says, “People started sharing it and asking more and more about it – because it talks about a taboo subject, being tackled by a woman. And in Islam, it’s an interesting topic. And so lots of people who were religious were trying to campaign to ban it.”
Her immediate family liked the film, and is proud of her – she graduated with the highest GPA in her year – but received calls from other members of the family, asking if Shaer was attempting to criticize them, or their religion.
After premiering “I Offered You Pleasure” in Korea at the biggest film festival in Asia where it was part of the official selection, Shaer now hopes to take the film to other festivals, and has been approached by curators at festivals in the United States, India and China. She is working on a new script, in between directing a music video and some acting projects, which will also discuss the role of women in the Arab world.
“Women in Lebanon have passion for freedom, and they are very energetic and organizing events and marches, but we still don’t have our full rights.”