Suspension of Disbelief  - A Political Romantic Comedy!?

    Jalal Jonroy / April 1 - 2007 / New York

    Theater and film experience need audience's friendly participation including the “Suspension of
    Disbelief.”  The rules of ‘believability/credibility” varies according to the different genres: tragedy,
    drama, comedy, satire, suspense, thriller, epic, science fiction… Comedy needs a more generous
    doze of audience's ‘Suspension of Disbelief’.  Satire needs even more.   

    What maybe unbelievable in drama would not only be desirable and acceptable but absolutely
    necessary in comedy, satire and farce!  Think of the films of Max Brothers, Buster Keaton and
    Charlie Chaplin to Jacques Tati, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, John
    Cleese and Monty Python. (And recall Molière and Shakespeare's
    comedic plays.) For example in David & Layla (2006): David falls
    off the ladder off Layla's high balcony without breaking a bone!
    Then, not only does David get immediately revived by Layla’s 'Kiss
    of Life' but he also gets an involuntary boner! This happens around
    27 mins into the film.

    The audience 'believes' this incredible scene because of the magic of cinema's sight and sound.
    The plot has been pre-designed and the characters have been carefully drawn and developed -
    propelling the escalating 'sex/love' obsession for the 'unobtainable, untouchable' lovely,
    mysterious Layla - to make this unlikely scene to be totally convincing!

    Most films and plays wisely stick with one style, say Chekhovian or Bergmanesque dramas, with
    sprinklings of believable comedy arising organically out of characters' real conflicts &  situations.

    My Left Foot (1989) is an excellent dramatic film with a few brilliant comedic
    scenes- funny scenes and witty dialog necessary for "comic relief."  

    Most playwrights & filmmakers do not or cannot mix genres/styles. The same holds
    true for creator artists, say musicians, composers and painters.  

    Shakespeare was a master of tragedy, drama, romance and comedy. Yet he
    seldom mixed more than two genres. His most memorable classics are powerful one genre:  
    Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet... But his Romeo and Juliet is a romantic tragedy as in the tradition
    of classic love stories: 'Shirin O Farhad' (Kurdish & Persian), 'Layla and Majnun' (Arabic), 'Veer-
    Zaara' (Indian)...

    Novice writers/directors are advised to avoid mixing genres. Both Martin
    Scorsese and Francis Coppola excel in dramas but they have not yet
    really succeeded (outside festivals) in mixing drama with comedy that
    work for general audiences. (Scoresese's The King of Comedy (1983)
    with De Nero comes close to succeeding.)

    Comedy vs. Drama

    Any honest professional writer, director, actor or film critic will confirm that comedy is much harder
    to pull off than drama. Drama has a wider, more forgiving margin of error. If
    comedy fails, everyone will immediately notice! Comedy is a much finer, more
    exacting mix of dramatic and cinematic (or theatrical) arts and crafts. Comedy is
    much more demanding to write, direct and act. Yet comedy is not favored by film
    festivals, film critics, and intellectuals; not even by Hollywood's Oscars! Irreverent
    satire is even less favored by 'serious' festivals and film critics.  Unless the
    comedy or satire is by a brand label like Woody Allen or Pedro Almodovar or
    Monty Python! Or, by dead masters: Chaplin, Keaton, Max Brothers, Molière, and         Moliére
    Jacques Tati!

    Romantic Comedy

    A Romantic Comedy is even tougher to pull off. People are wise about sensual, sexual love. If the
    chemistry between the lovers on the silver screen is not believable, everyone will turn off. You
    might as well kiss your play or film 'goodbye!' A Romantic Comedy needs experienced, highly
    sensitive and fast-witted, versatile physical actors with superb clear voice for precisely-timed line
    delivery. It also requires the use of specific cinematic crafts. For examples: sensitive
    cinematography, sensual lighting, tender music score, subtle make up, costume, production
    design, ambience sound design, editing.... Too much or insensitive/inappropriate use of any of
    these arts and crafts will render a romantic comedy into a kitschy, melodramatic soap opera! In
    spite of the real life differences between the lead actors and the vast difference between the story’
    s lead characters, the impossible romance of David & Layla works on screen. The script is written
    and directed so that at the beginning the romance looks awkward and most unlikely to succeed.
    Yet, by the end of the story, at the end of the lead characters' arcs, everyone believes in the
    love/romance between David & Layla.

    Mixed genres

    Choosing a single genre film (or play), say a drama, decides the look, feel and tone of the film,
    covering every element from the opening credits to the end, even affecting the ending credits roll:
    film stock- and whether to use color or black & white -, camera strategy/movement, choice of
    lenses, filters, lightning, locations, weather, production color palette and design, costume design,
    pacing, editing style, sound design, music score...and the casting of actors!

    Already that is a huge challenge to put together successfully. French director
    Claude Lelouch  who wrote & directed the celebrated love story -
    A Man and a Woman (1966) - is renowned for saying, "Tourner un film un
    film, c'est un miracle!"-  Making any film is a miracle! (I had the honor of
    meeting the 69 year-old director and help out with interview translation for
    his latest film at Hamptons Int’l Film Fest. I asked, 'Is it true?' « Oui,
    absolument ! J’ai fait 40 films. Alors j’ai fait 40 miracles ! »                                     Claude Lelouch

    Mixing two or three genres requires the judicious mixing of all the above elements - different for
    each genre. That is playing with fire! That is why most writers and directors (should!) choose one

    Most plays and films are mostly one genre, one tone. Audiences are readily receptive to one genre
    films. But they are uncomfortable or get confused with films that change tones. Unless the story
    and characters grab them and the tone changing is done with style!

    In the entire history of cinema, there are less than a dozen films that succeed in mixing drama,
    romance and comedy!

    The first successful mixed-genre American film is Charlie Chaplin’s silent
    City Lights (1931.) The second is by the celebrated American auteur
    writer/director Preston Sturges- the classic Sullivan's Travels (1941.) Both
    films are classics - well worth re-watching. Recently, Roberto Benigni’s
    Vita è bella, La  aka “Life Is Beautiful” (1997) is another example that succeeds
    in mixing three genres. Some American Jews were offended and boycotted the
    ilm for mixing humor with the Holocaust. Yet the Jerusalem Film Fest gave it
    Best Picture Award, and the Jerusalem Mayor bestowed the director with
    Jerusalem city's Medal of Honor.

    Postino, Il (1994) aka "The Postman" is a subtle mixture of genres- two parallel love
    stories, drama, and a bit of culture/poetry and politics. Hollywood is reluctant to
    make such "complex" movies. Yet American audiences enjoyed this British-
    directed Italian film as much as European and international audiences. The film
    won 3 Oscars, including Best Foreign film.

 White Sheik" is an unforgettable mixed genres masterpiece- a drama-comedy
    of a moral tale of marital love vs. fantasy love!

    And of course, many of the incomparable Pedro Almodovar’s films succeed
    brilliantly in mixing comedy or satire with drama and love- for example mixing
    Aids-infected tragic Penelope Cruze’s character with humor and love in
    To-do sober mi Madre (1999) aka "All About My Mother."                                              Federico Fellini

    For mixed genres films to succeed, the differing and precise acting techniques and arts and crafts
    of cinema - covering the whole range of drama, romance and comedy - need to be prudently
    mixed. Too much or too rapid or too slow of mixing of the different, often necessarily opposing
    filmmaking elements - as in composing music or cooking - could render the resulting film (score,
    or dish or cocktail!) to be unpalatable!

    David & Layla- A Political Romantic Comedy?

    David & Layla mixes romantic comedy with a bit of drama,
    history, ethnic culture and politics of the complex background
    of the Middle East plighted by the incendiary Jewish Muslim

    Aptly dubbed as a 'Political Romantic Comedy', David & Layla
    was first invited into Official Competition at Hamptons IFF  
    "Conflict Resolution"; then a "Human Rights" film fest co-
    sponsored by HRW- Humans Rights Watch of NY. The next
    sixteen festivals were regular internationals. Then, the film
    got invited into Official Competition by three "Love",
    "Romantic" and "Amour" international film festivals!

    The film is invited to Verona Love Film festival, 26 April- 5 May
    2007. David & Layla shall be featured in Panorama as re-
    interpretation in a different city (New York in this film) of the
    original star crossed lovers in Verona: Shakespeare's city of
    Romeo & Juliet! In all tests and festivals in America and abroad, the film consistently succeeds
    with a variety of audiences- from NY & LA to Sao Paulo/Brazil & Stockhom, from Hamptons &
    Florida to Human Rights, and from New York Makor Jewish culture center to Avignon &  Paris, and
    to London & Berlin KFF...

    Everywhere David & Layla is embraced and received with constant, engaging laughter and even
    frequent applauses during the film's screening. The bigger and the more diverse the audience,
    the more enthusiastic the reception.

    To have successfully pulled off this complex, sensitive Jewish-Muslim political romantic comedy
    by a first time immigrant writer/producer/director in New York was not easy.  Perhaps in time, this
    ethnic, new immigrant radical film will be appreciated as a landmark.

    Ironically, the writer/director Jay Jonroy has studied and admires the more
    serious/drama directors than comedy directors. For example he's an
    admiring student of such idols as: Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, Bunuel,
    Satyajit Ray, early Elia Kazan, Frank Capra, Jean Renoir…and of
    contemporary serious directors: the late Yilmaz Guney, contemporary
    master filmmakers Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, and Alejandro González
    Iñárritu. But Jay felt this complex sensitive Jewish Muslim love story - and
    our troubled world - could do with a playful, comic relief. So he tended more
    towards Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday , Lubitsch, Wilder, Fellini, De Sica,
    Fassbinder, Almodovar…rather than the above-named 'serious/drama' directors.

    Some have suggested a Kurdish Woody Allen… Oh please! Allen's recent
    films are recycled, irrelevant stuff for his usual fans! Woody Allen has set up
    an auto assembly line to produce a film a year!  He seems to be obsessed
    with auteur fame based on quantity, not originality. So he lives an isolated,
    perpetual movie-making life, cut of from the real world we live in.

    Did I like Woody write myself to be a witty, loveable lead character, then play myself in the film and
    have the chutzpah to write and direct young pretty actresses - half his age - to fall in love with him
    because he's funny and quotes classic philosophers!? (Could this explain why Woody's young
    adopted child/daughter fell for him and married him?)

    * Jalal Jonroy is the director of David & Layla