“What is the difference between plot and narrative?”

Last night I saw “The Savages” on the second night of the Damascus Film Festival. The organizers put up a huge amount of money this year, to support among other things screening all of Martin Scorcese’s films and even coercing Scorcese to come to Damascus to meet the judges and open the festival. At least this was according to someone from one of the European cultural centers, whom a friend of mine met yesterday on his way to pick up an elusive film schedule. The booklets were finally printed and available yesterday, a day after the opening.

It was my first time at a Syrian cinema. With the exception of the shabab gawking and trying to smoke cigarettes in front — amazing there is no smoking allowed in Syrian movie theaters — the old movie theater almost reminded me of the Coolidge Corner cinema in Boston.

 “The Savages” was probably Amitava Kumar‘s favorite movie of last year, as he reminded his class weekly in a 9/11 lit seminar last spring. He must have wanted us to imagine characters in our writing like Wendy Savage, who lies to her brother, a professor of Brecht in Buffalo, about getting a Guggenheim fellowship. Later she admits that funding for her freelance playwrighting has come from FEMA, money allotted for 9/11 victims. Her brother’s aghast but amused. 

Wendy: “I worked downtown! I was affected!” 

Jon: “The whole world was affected.” 

The two Syrian men who came into the theater at the same time as us were a few steps ahead when the movie ended and we were out the door. They lit their cigarettes and seemed to bounce on the sidewalk after bounding from the cinema steps. They seemed to love the movie. 

“What did you think?” my friend asked.

“Excellent,” said one of the men with a smile. He was missing an arm, one of his shirt sleeves rolled up near the shoulder. Like his friend he was puffing on the after-movie cigarette in delight.


“Yes, excellent. Mumtaz.”

They hopped in a cab and the two of us walked back to the old city, talking about The Savages as we passed by the citadel and the Omayyad mosque, its minarets still lit up brilliant. Somewhere nearby a rooster was cocking, a little early for 2am.


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