by: PRINDIE Senior Programmer ALEX KIM
Alex is a mathematics major at Princeton University, where he has also studied film theory and screenplay writing.
Alia’s husband Ayman is teaching her to drive. Of course, “teaching” can mean a lot of things. For Ayman it means keeping his precious car parked in the middle of a garage as he asks Alia to “slow down” for imaginary speed bumps and warns her to “look out!” for an imaginary motorcyclist that she’s about to hit. But you can’t say that Ayman isn’t trying. To simulate less than favorable weather conditions, he turns on a fan in the car and sprays water on the windshield.
Aziza, which takes its title from the name of Ayman’s car, begins with this hilarious husband-and-wife driving lesson, and then over the course of the film brilliantly flips every part of that set-up to reveal a deeper sense of pain and loss. For one, we learn that Alia (played by Caress Bashar) and Ayman (played by Abdel Moneim Amayri) are Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and that behind Ayman’s overprotective attitude toward his car is the fact that it is their only possession from Syria that they have managed to hold on to. Driving Aziza, they can make believe for a little while that they are still in Damascus.
Aziza is a film about make-believe, about pretending and acting. Vonnegut once famously warned that “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” In Aziza, we’re given another, more hopeful side to that statement. Ayman and Alia long to be home again, and they find relief and hope in imagining, for a little while, that they are. The film trusts in this make-believe as much as its characters do. During the opening sequence, for instance, the film playfully plunges us into the illusion of an actual drive by including the sounds of traffic where of course in real life there wouldn’t be any. These illusions never strike us as lies or as directorial gimmicks, though, because the characters believe in them so strongly that they are, in a sense, true.
Glass appears throughout the film as a motif underscoring this theme of illusion: mirrors showing us what we want to believe. The ingenious first shot shows us Alia as reflected in a piece of glass hanging from the rear-view, and then slowly pans down to a plate of metal on the glove compartment to give us our first glimpse of Ayman. Later, we continue to see characters largely through plates of glass—through the windshield from outside the car in, and from inside the car out. In one scene, Ayman contemplates letting Alia drive for real, and we see the resigned expression on his face only in the distortion of that glove compartment again. “You have to forgive me, Aziza,” he says. Aziza does much more than that.