“If cars could talk”, as the expression goes, what would they tell us? Would it be tales of adventure, or sighs of toil and exhaustion? Or would they tell of the scores of heartbreaks and tragedies they have witnessed? Cars are the ultimate confidant. Most secret meetings happen in or around cars, and if the movies are to be believed, this is how most crimes are planned. It makes this expression a very dangerous one.
Lebanese filmmaker Hady Zaccack took this expression to heart in the documentary Marcedes, where he traces the history of Lebanon using the German automobile brand. According to his website, participating in a documentary film on the 2006 Lebanese war sparked in him an interest political history, resulting in two films. One of these was Marcedes, awarded Best Arab Documentary by the International Federation of Film Critics in 2011.
The synopsis of the film on Cinema El Fourn’s Facebook page is as follows: “This is the biography of the Mercedes Ponton, the 180 model (1953-1962) which became a pop icon of pre-war Lebanon and witnessed the transformations of the Lebanese [political] scene.”
The film was screened at Darb 1718 on Wednesday 29 May. The initial impression is that of confusion as the viewer attempts to piece together the plot of the documentary. It soon becomes apparent that when the film mentions “family”, it means the family of Mercedes cars, and that all footage in the film features a Mercedes car one way or another. As the film presents, Lebanon seems to have a Mercedes fetish, with every political sect owning their own version of the German brand – even Hezbollah.
The film traces the history of Lebanon from the 1950s to present day.
As the film portrays, cars do speak, albeit not literally, but through actions. Mercedes cars are involved in assassinations, corpse-dragging, civil wars, and formal political processions. Throughout Lebanese history, they are at the heart of events. At one point, the film showed the car in which Rafik Hariri was murdered, which, to little surprise, was a Mercedes.
In general, speech in the documentary is very limited, and narration is provided in writing, where “the family” is often described to be at one place or another.
At the end, the Mercedes cars are lined up as if they are listening to a Hitler speech, which plays in the background. While open to interpretation, the scene’s fascistic imagery may hint at the country’s domination by outside forces in the form of capitalism.
This political bravado lives on in the sects that tear the country apart, while still hanging on to their precious cars. In the Middle East, a Mercedes serves as a display of wealth and power. On its own, it is a grab at dominion, and each sect acknowledges that by striving to own one or more.
Overall, the film is smart, but does tend to drag on, a problem which more attentive editing might have remedied.