In the climate of the United States right now, many fear for the future one way or another. The world is ever changing whether you support, revolt, enjoy the spoils or face the effects of a world slowly falling to seed under the control of those who have no care for anyone but themselves.
This perspective is the foundation for filmmaker Joyce A. Nashawati and her latest film Blind Sun. Taking us on the journey of a mysterious man named Ashraf Idriss (Ziad Bakri) who has spent his last years going from country to country house sitting for those of the upper class. As he travels from Paris to Greece, he moves through a long and dark tunnel entering a world that seems to be brighter, hotter and in a state of unrest. He is stopped by a police officer who searches his car and seizes his visa and papers. Ashraf feels a panic and loss of his identity as he heads for his next assignment. As Ashraf makes his way to the isolated house owned by a rich man and his upper class family, the viewer sees that they have everything in excess including a pool, ample water supply, a garden, among other things, and are kept safely behind barbed wired walls.
Ashraf takes on the responsibility of protecting the property and home while the family goes away on vacation. Over the weeks to follow (I think, but it seems almost timeless in the way the story flows), Ashraf is beginning to break down overall as pressure, guilt, lack of water and more are wearing him down. With each day that goes by, his mind is fracturing as he sees things that might not really be there … or perhaps they are. He neglects the family cat, himself and the property. He blacks out from the heat and lack of water. The glass house of luxury is slowly becoming a mausoleum on the hill above the town which is suffering from the water shortage, drought, an uprising and police oppression. In the end, will Ashraf face the mounting pressure of so much falling in on him or will he understand a higher purpose and meaning to the events that are unfolding and flowing around him?
Blind Sun can be interpreted in so many different ways by so many different people. For me, on multiple viewings, it became a love and hate experience with the film earning my complete respect in the end. Blind Sun is so intelligent and symbolic which, for me, especially during the first screening, gave me the sensation I was not catching on to the many messages, symbolism, sophistication and complexity that Nashawati builds through the running time.
Nashawati packs many themes into the films narrative including religion, history, psychology, society and more. For every viewer, I believe there will be a different set of interruptions for the variety of story points. The idea of revolution. The connection of biblical worship and religion. The journey of Ashraf from the fire and heat to baptism. The symbolism of the community, property, the water, the snake, the stars, the illusions and more. At some points, it seemed very complex and very layered; almost too smart in my opinion. At times, it is confusing and off balance but I do believe that this overwhelming feeling connects you to the performance.
However, the film is quite an achievement. The visual presentation is a canvas for the beauty of storytelling to unfold on. Incredible use of locations. The use of light, color and shadow. The power of score and sound production. The camera framing and movement all tell stories in their own way.
It starts off for me with the locations. The texture, lines and colors are stunning and the way that the camera embraces them is a journey for the eyes. The symbolism of the glass house and his fragile state are paired so well. Each segment of the house going deeper into his psyche as well as the growing deterioration of the property and growing emptiness of the pool say so much without a word. The visual waves of heat and the focus on the effects of all those who deal with the heat wave reinforces the power that this has from the drops of sweat to the tanning of skin.
The cinema scope reflecting the variety of roads that Ashraf travels down gives length and distance to the overall journey he is put through. The wide shots of the surrounding deserts and the particularly cramped framing of the town where we find those fighting for water versus Ashraf who becomes a voyeur. Again, the glass house which symbolises many different themes and can be taken so many ways. Temptation, gluttony, The Garden of Eden, excess, guilt, worship and at the core Ashraf’s spider webbing mind. Each location that Nashawati presents, such as the set design, lighting and placement add the growing dread and visual look of something truly powerful and symbiotic.
That visual presentation is also created by simple manipulations of shadow and light throughout the film. The paranoia building and the reactions of Ashraf. A color palate that goes from very cool and safe with the water to browns to reds that feel like a burning hell surrounding Ashraf. The tricks of Ashraf’s mind like shadows behind curtains, blobs against walls or moving in the frame are tools to show the mental breakdown. The oversaturation of light that floods the frame to the point that you are adjusting and struggling like Ashraf. The POV through Ashraf’s eyes of the sun and brightness, at times over exposed, other times like an evil eye.
This goes hand in hand with Bakri’s performance. The change in personality and condition from day to night. Is he truly seeing someone after him? Is someone in the house with him? Is he doing all of this damage and blacking out? The mounting guilt, isolation in luxury, excess and expectations. This is created and cultivated with incredible lighting, movement of shadow and reflection, especially from the water. The glass house which is flooded with light as a beacon of entitlement and a shrine like feel.
This is blended effectively with the sound design and foley. The slow build of the soundscape that goes along with his mental breakdown. Motor bike sounds in the distance. Steps, breaking of glass, the cat’s meow, the water running, the wind and more versus the sounds of night like the smooth breeze, softness, jazz, touching of skin, water moving and more. This is always a very clever way to build layers onto a character that is performed with method but elevated with the talents around them. The score has an edge that gets in your head and lingers. Giving it a 1970’s feel, the score and soundtrack create the inner sound of Ashraf’s mind and the world crumbling around him. You have a range of sound from echoes, to strings, moans and tormenting beats. That is contrasted with honey dripped jazz vocals that transition into the intense beats that dictates mood, emotion, conflict, instability and events mounting.
Overall Blind Sun is a statement at the core. It talks about a future that may be closer then we think. It talks about trust in those around us and survival. It shows the reactions of those on the different levels of society and how they react to reality. It is a powerful film that is part mystery, part 1970’s stylized drama and of course a very intelligent horror film with many underlying messages. After I watched Blind Sun, I thought of films like Haute Tension, The Strangers, Dark Water, The Citadel and Last Shift for a variety of effective scares, themes, visual design, dread and tension. Blind Sun has all of these elements but stands on its own strong. It may be confusing at times and very detailed, but it is worth watching at least twice to experience it and then to find the details that makes it such a strong film. Test yourself. Fall into Ashraf’s madness as a voyeur and try not to lose your mind in the Blind Sun.