Joshua Jackson and Alexander Siddig in INESCAPABLE, a film by Ruba Nadda. Picture courtesy IFC Films. All rights reserved.
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Opened: 02/22/2013 Limited
|IFC Center||02/22/2013 - 02/28/2013||7 days|
|NoHo 7||02/22/2013 - 02/28/2013||7 days|
Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: R for some violence and brief language.
You Can't Escape Your Past.
It is January, 2011, before the Arab Spring begins to take hold in Syria.
Adib Abdel Kareem (Siddig) had made the perfect life for himself in Toronto: beautiful wife, two grown daughters, great job. He is a confident man, at ease in any setting - his Syrian background betrayed only by a slight accent and his daughters' names, Muna and Leila. Adib is a man who has successfully built a life from scratch -- a man who had left his past behind.
Until his daughter, Muna, disappears in Damascus and his past catches up to him all at once.
Twenty-five years ago, Adib, a promising young officer in the Syrian military police, suddenly left Damascus under suspicious circumstances. He left his entire life behind, including the love of his life, Fatima (Tomei). He made his way to Canada and wiped the slate clean. He never told anyone about his past.
So when his daughter Muna, a young freelance photographer, decided to visit Damascus on a whim, she had no idea what she was walking into.
As soon as he learns of her disappearance, Adib knows he is the only one who can get her out. He returns to retrace Muna's steps through Syria - a closed and paranoid police state. He enlists the help of Fatima and then Paul, a Canadian Consular official (Jackson) who knows more than he lets on.
In order to find his daughter, he must confront the past that he left behind. INESCAPABLE is both a tense mystery and a character drama held together by the universal theme of undying and uncompromising love between a father and a daughter.
About the Production
INESCAPABLE is Ruba Nadda's (Cairo Time) third feature film and stars Alexander Siddig (Cairo Time, Miral, Syriana), Academy Award®Winner Marisa Tomei (The Ides of March, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Wrestler), "Fringe" star Joshua Jackson (will next appear in the Stephen Frears-directed drama, Lay the Favorite), Saad Siddiqui (Cosmopolis) and Oded Fehr (The Mummy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Extinction and Retribution). Written and directed by Nadda, INESCAPABLE is produced by Daniel Iron (Cairo Time, The Bang Bang Club, Away From Her, Red Violin) and Lance Samuels (The Bang Bang Club, Lucky). Christine Vachon of Killer Films, Myriad Picture's Kirk D'Amico and Mark Slone of Alliance Films serve as Executive Producers.
Cinematography by Luc Montpellier (Take This Waltz, Cairo Time, Away From Her), production design by Bobby Cardoso ("Wild at Heart"), costume design by Ruy Filipe (Hotel Rwanda, Cry, the Beloved Country), and editing by Teresa Hannigan (Cairo Time, Sabah). Alliance Films is distributing INESCAPABLE in Canada. International sales are being handled by Myriad Pictures.
The very first seedling of the idea for INESCAPABLE (originally entitled Abu Muna) took root when Ruba Nadda was 12 years old. "In the Middle East, men are not referred to by their first names, but rather as 'father of the eldest male child.' I was in a cafe in Damascus with my father and someone called him Abu Mohammed (if you do not have sons, you are named after the prophet). The look on my father's face was rage and he turned to everyone and said, "Call me Abu Ruba." There was a hush in the cafe. It was bad enough that he had brought his daughter into a cafe which is for men only, but this was even worse. But from that point onward, everyone called him Abu Ruba."
For Nadda, that moment was an early reckoning that her father, born and raised in Damascus, Syria, was 'cool.' While her screenplays to date have centered around women, she has long wanted to tell the story of this very unique man. Nadda was born in Canada, but spent many of her teenage years in Damascus with her family during the 1980s. "It's a beautiful city, but dangerous and that left a strangeness in my head. At that age, you don't immediately understand the dangers of living in a corrupt country. I remember saying something in our kitchen when I was 12 and my mother telling me to be quiet because the walls have ears," she recalled. "I looked around, thinking there's nobody around, but the two of us. Eventually, I did begin to see the evidence: people afraid of what they said, and everybody watching everybody else. It was a very East Berlin, Soviet-style sensibility."
"These two ideas began to gel years later when I was attending a film festival in the Middle East and my father thought it was dangerous for me to travel there. "Don't disappear," he warned me at the time. "Don't make me come after you.""
"I thought that was such a perfect idea," she continued. "I took the four years I spent in Syria plus the weird sensibility of living in a police state along with how macho and amazing my father is. I wanted to deal with elements of fatherhood: courage, chivalry. I knew I could paint a portrait of an Arab man if I told a story that was universal. The idea of going to the ends of the earth to find your child is easy to understand. I turned all these ideas into a movie about a daughter who goes missing and a father who has to return back to Syria to find her. It begins with the daughter looking for her father's history. Adib is a man who has kept an entire section of his life from his family. And, in any family, if there is a big secret, everyone is going to try and unearth it."
Syria, which gained its independence in 1946, existed in a state of political instability until the bloody coup in 1963 when control shifted to the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party. Another coup took place in 1970 at which point Hafez al-Assad took power within that party. After his death in 2000, his son, Bashar al-Assad took over. Until the Arab Spring in 2011, Syria wasn't at the forefront of Western news reports. As recently as 2008, when Producer Daniel Iron of Foundry Films was pitching the film for funding, the global relevance of Nadda's screenplay has not yet started to resonate. "There's a whole underlying element to the script which is about the nature of police states. The competing secret service factions within that government is how a regime holds power, but that was not in the public consciousness when we began developing this project," Iron recounted. "Now, however, it very much is."
"It's ironic because for years Danny and I tried to convince anybody who would listen about the significance of Syria. Time and again we were told you can't make a film about Syria because no one knows about the police state, the danger, or the corruption," said Nadda. "In the last year as we were getting our financing together, Syria exploded in the news. Suddenly, everybody knew where Damascus was, everybody knew about the government and after years of people thinking I was crazy with this idea, they were saying, "Hey, you were right about that!""
Of the many films Iron has produced, this was the first time current events have played such a monumentally relevant role. "The political situation in Syria put more responsibility on us to place the story at a certain point in the region's history. We couldn't fully incorporate these recent events in the movie because we can't know the outcome of the Syrian uprising. That is why we place the story just prior to the start of the revolt in January, 2011 when the winds of change are blowing but the regime is still in full control. The timing of the release of INESCAPABLE, I hope, is such that it will help to provide those who see the movie with a little more understanding of the context which gave rise to the rage and the opposition in Syria."
From the Romance of Cairo to the Oppression of Damascus
As well as producing INESCAPABLE, Iron also produced Nadda's previous film, Cairo Time, a love story set in Egypt. And for both projects, Iron teamed up with Christine Vachon, who founded indie powerhouse Killer Films, as his Executive Producer. The two genres, romance and political thriller, are worlds apart, but Vachon had complete confidence in Nadda's skill and ability to span the distance. "We had a very good experience with Cairo Time and the script for INESCAPABLE is extremely strong and timely," she said.
"I know Ruba and I know how adroit and skilled a director she is," added Iron. "She has wildly catholic tastes in movies and I knew she had written this script and would make this film appropriate to the script she had written. Great directors have a range that can span many genres while maintaining an overriding style, adjusting and adapting suitable shot choices and pacing. This film falls in John Le Carre territory, set in an authoritarian country where everything is shifting and hidden from everybody. There is no one central force of evil that everyone is fighting. Having a thriller set in the framework of bureaucratic authoritarianism is, to me, more suspenseful and more complicated because nobody can have the full picture and you can't immediately pinpoint the villain."
... And then to Johannesburg
As logical as it would have been to shoot INESCAPABLE on location in Syria, because that is where it is set, bringing a feature film crew into that country in January, 2012 was not an option. Moving the production to neighbouring Jordan was briefly considered, but the downside was still perilous because there was no guarantee that civil unrest or the influence of the Syrian secret police stopped completely at the border. Iron turned to Producer Lance Samuels of Out of Africa Entertainment with whom he had produced The Bang Bang Club in 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. They had cemented a strong, working partnership on that film, so going forward, Samuel presented Johannesburg as a viable option. "On previous productions from Out of Africa, we had shot the Middle East in Johannesburg, and after some initial scouting, it was settled," noted Samuels. "South Africa is such a vast country and it is home to such a multitude of ethnic groups, including a huge Muslim population, that there are communities where the architecture and street life bear a striking resemblance to the Middle East."
"Fate is nothing but the deeds committed in a prior state of existence". -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the Arab culture, according to Nadda, as in the culture of many religions, fate is intertwined with the inescapability of destiny. "It's not a romantic notion," said Nadda. "It's about survival. To survive the harsh reality in that region, it's better to believe control is out of their hands. It's destiny." The title of the film comes from the early part of the film when Adib is in Canada with his wife and his family and he's happy. "And the truth of that matter," explained Nadda, "is that he is happy. He's thrilled. He's Canadian. He has health care. He thinks he's gotten away from a past where he could have had a lot of blood on his hands."
"Growing up as the child of immigrants," said Nadda, "I know that they often have a love/hate relationship with their homeland. Part of them wants to leave it behind forever and start a new life, while another part keeps calling them back - though most don't experience this quite as dramatically as Adib does. He tries to completely leave his past behind and he really pays the price."
"There's karma as well, if you want to chuck in another concept," said Alexander Siddig who plays Adib Abdel Kareem, the man who runs, but cannot hide from the inevitability of the life he once had in Syria. "You can't escape your actions. You have to atone for them in some way. You have conscience. This film, in a way, is an attempt at dealing with that. Adib might try and hide a quarter century of his life from his family, but eventually, the truth will come out. There's the American method of talking through everything and then there's the Arab method of putting everything under the carpet. Adib opted for the carpet and is taught by his daughter to confront those issues." He went on to say, "I like Adib. He's far from perfect, he's dark and he's got a horrible temper. He's a good man, but he's stretched to the limit. He attempts to be honourable, like we all do in real life. And at the end of the day, I wouldn't mind him being my dad if I was missing."
It is not only Adib who had a date with destiny, it is Siddig as well. According to Nadda, the role of Adib was going to Siddig no matter what. She knew that as far back as when she directed in for Cairo Time." He's spectacular. It's a pleasure dealing with him day in and day out. I've never had a moment's hesitation about him. I always knew he'd be brilliant in this."
Filmmakers talk about chemistry on screen between actors, but the chemistry off screen between actors and directors is equally, if not more important. "It's a lucky actor who can hook up with a director in a way that is conducive to their artistic evolution together," said Siddig. "I landed on my feet finding Ruba and she really is one of the greatest directors I've ever worked with. She'd probably giggle if I said that to her, but she's terrific and we suit each other."
Alexander Siddig was taken a bit by surprise by the magnitude of this role. "I'm a supporting actor," he maintained. "A role like this was never on my to-do list. It's only working with Ruba where I become a leading man for her. But there is nothing Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis about me. I'm ostensibly British, so I can't easily boast about this, but it is a dream role. I've never gotten into a fight in my real life, but Adib gets into a lot of them particularly against people who are far stronger and better equipped than he is, and I understand each one."
Daniel Iron dismissed Siddig's humility with a wave. "He is a leading man. He holds the screen well and he has presence. And he has charisma (a sentiment echoed by Christine Vachon). While he may have thought he was not a leading man, I always did."
Compared to the sprawling thrillers typically made with heavily choreographed shootouts, explosions, car chases, and spectacular stunts, real espionage is writ small. "It's small, quiet and it gets very messy very quickly," Siddig explained. "You can empty the magazine of a gun in two seconds because of the adrenaline, and you haven't even started the battle. Ruba's not a big fan of guns, so the fights are ingenious. You work with whatever you have on hand and it's pretty brutal. It's not for the faint of heart, but they are over quickly. And we're exhausted by the time they're over."
The Love Story
"I am such a sucker for love stories," proclaimed Nadda. "I am continually fascinated by the lives of immigrants you see on the street. What you don't see is where they have come from, the country they left or the family they may never see again. They have reinvented their lives which is a privilege of coming to a new country, but walking passed them on the street doesn't show you what they has to do to get there."
It is the life left behind, often unfinished, that intrigues Nadda and in this she saw an opportunity to have an unfinished love story in the movie that could deal with the theme of reconciliation. When Adib returns to Damascus, there is only one person he trusts and it is the woman he left behind 25 years before. Fatima understands his desperation, but at the same time, she is the woman Adib abandoned.
The Oscar-winning® actress, Marisa Tomei, born in Brooklyn, transformed magnificently into a Syrian woman for the role of Fatima. "The attention she pays to the detail in the script and every nuance of her character is impressive. Every gesture made her character leap off the page as a full-fledged Syrian woman," noted Iron. "It's hard to recognize her as Marisa. On screen and off, she reads like Fatima."
"Marisa Tomei is spectacular," said Nadda. "She is lost inside the character and it's wild to see. She is one of the hardest working actors out there. She threw herself into the role of Fatima wholeheartly. She even went to Beirut to do research because it's so difficult to find Syrian women to consult."
The love story between Adib and Fatima is, as Siddig described it, "is the pumping heart of the film." These two people who were deeply in love are ripped apart from each other at what would be the ideal age (mid-20s) for building their lives together. The impact of this separation where their lives were interrupted -- not broken up- plays out when they meet each other again, two decades later.
"It takes a huge amount of courage for Fatima to even look at me in the face again," Siddig continues, "because to her, this was a major betrayal. For Adib, the departure was not a choice. It was a necessity because if he stayed, he would die, or end up in a Syrian prison. When they meet again, the landscape starts to smolder. There is a battle about how much can they trust each other and how in love are they still. Is Adib manipulating her? Is Fatima capable of helping him honestly? There's a proper red-hot relationship running through the middle of the film. This is enough for a movie by itself. And Tomei delivers again and again and again in this role. She is a passionate girl. Sure, Adib's heart is on fire when he meets his old love, the person about whom he fantasized for the last 25 years while he's been in Canada even though he is married, again, but my sympathy lies with Fatima. She's the one who's had to live out the reality of his actions back in Syria the whole time. When he turns up, she was just beginning to find some semblance of normality She'd been widowed the year before, she lost the love of her life in her 20s, and Adib is asking for help because he's lost his daughter who isn't her daughter. She has every right to be furious. And she is. Adib has a super motive, finding his daughter and if that takes lighting a fire which hurts someone else, he lights that fire."
In addition to learning the accent, Tomei tried to research the lives of women in Syria, but discovered the oppressive atmosphere of that country doesn't encourage women to write about their intimate experiences. "Adib left without a word," noted Tomei, "and re-entered Fatima's life with a telephone call. She was not even sure he had even gotten out of the country alive. It was all speculation and there were a million stories in her head about could have happened to him. Once he does arrive, everything happens so quickly. The time frame of the movie is a couple of days, so every second counts in the search for Muna which doesn't leave her room to have many conflicting feelings about his return."
What makes this reunion even more complex is that the Fatima Adib returns to is now a grown woman, a woman who has suffered along with all the other citizens of Syria. "I don't know if she wished this meeting would happen because a lot of time has passed and as a result of Adib's departure, she had to cope with being ostracized by her community in the short term." Stepping back from the emotions of the character, Tomei constructed a philosophical posture for Fatima. "To find Adib's daughter, Muna, is to begin the process of finding all the other missing children of Syria. There is someone's life at stake at the core of it all; there is love and respect and humanity."
Even a few months after wrap of principal photography, Tomei had not quite let go of the character and the overall experience. "Alexander was immediately very kind and chivalrous and very invested in the history and the love of these two characters. I liked Fatima a great deal. I enjoyed her. Once you become the outsider, it gives you a lot of freedom and in some ways, Fatima is the outsider because she was shunned as a result of Adib's actions. She had to go through being under surveillance, and now she doesn't have a husband, but she never really lost who she was - she just had to hide it, bury it for different reasons because of society and partly because of the way love had been perverted in her life."
The Canadian Diplomat played by a Very Diplomatic Canadian
In an effort to find his daughter, Adib goes to the Canadian embassy in Damascus where he meets Paul Ridge played by Joshua Jackson who, according to Nadda, "fought his way out of two weeks on Fringe so he could take this part." The description of Ridge in the script reads exactly as one might expect for a Canadian diplomat: "a very handsome, charming, mild-mannered, consular official dressed in a nice suit." In fact, it's a springboard for Jackson's creative whimsy.
"Who Paul is, or who he wants to be, is a career politician, a young Trudeau or a young Kennedy, but he finds himself in the midst of what will turn out to be a revolution," described Jackson. "Coming from a bloodless upbringing, he tries to navigate those waters while indulging in his vanity only to get himself into a world of shit. Syria being an incredibly isolated country at the best of times, the audience will have a better awareness, certainly more than the characters, of what's about to happen there. It's intimated that Paul is living a dilettante's life in the Embassy, enjoying life and the power that comes along with being part of the diplomatic corps. Through circumstance and history, he gets caught in this pinch and he's in way, way over his head. The situation is so fluid, changing all the time and gets far out of control really quickly. He's not an evil person and he does care about the people he is harming through his actions. And he is mostly incapable of righting the wrongs he has caused."
"Joshua's a dream to work with," said Nadda. "He feels Canadian in this, yet plays it slippery right from the start. He's brought an interesting complexity to the character. And in real life, not only is he incredibly smart and charming, he's very funny." During filming, it became evident that Jackson was particularly adept at one-liners, specifically slipped in between takes. On one night shoot, when Jackson, Siddig and Saad Siddiqui (Halim) were filming a nasty fight scene in an alley, the crew stayed as close as possible to the camera so they could follow the off screen, ad-lib comedy taking places between shots.
"Being one of the new kids on the block (referring to the fact that Alexander Siddig has worked with Nadda before), was made so much easier because Alexander sets the tone, actor-wise, on set. Plus he is a lovely guy," Jackson commented.
Prophetically, Jackson speculated while on set in February, 2012, "I don't think the story in Syria is very close to being finished. I don't think all those dominos [referring to Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Baharain and Libya] have fallen. Even from the first time I read the script in the late fall of 2011, the situation on the ground in Syria has changed night and day, again. Before this movie is released, there will be more change. Ruba's timing becomes more and more poignant with every single day that passes. I've never worked on something that is, literally, unfolding in real life as you are filming it."
And from the Syrian Government...
Israeli-born Oded Fehr plays Sayid Abd Al-Aziz, a senior official with the Syrian government. Like Syria itself, he appears calm and orderly on the surface, but when veneer is scratched, a new reality appears. Sayid and Adib had grown up together and were, at one point, close friends which is why Adib seeks him out to assist in finding Muna. But there is something more going on, something that generates animosity between the two men, and it dates back a time when Adib, Sayid and Fatima were all friends.
Fehr, who served in the Israeli navy and worked as security for El-Al airlines in Germany, is no stranger to action roles. "I loved playing this character because there's so much backstory and so much being said without saying it. That makes for a phenomenal acting piece largely because Sayid is a bad guy-good guy-bad guy-good guy-bad guy again sort of role. He cares about Adib and he cares about Fatima, but really he cares about himself more."
"The title of the film, INESCAPABLE I think applies to everyone in the film. It's as if each person, Adib, Fatima and even Sayid, can't escape from where they are and who they are," Ferh added. "Growing up in Israel, you're always attached to Middle East politics and conflicts. You can't help but be aware of it or interested in it or following it. I hear it all the time, I read about it, and I feel I am a lot closer to it and know it much better than most people in North America."
Saad Siddiqui plays Halim, an agent for the Ministry of the Interior which is in charge of maintaining security in the country. This is a man who operates largely in the shadows, following, trailing, watching, coming forward swiftly and with malice. Halim is what Adib was 25 years ago and while Halim has suspicions about him, he's equally intrigued. It is the classic mutual respect between enemies. For the sort of character that Halim is, he is much more composed than that sort of individual usually appears.
Siddiqui, who has a degree in political science, did intense research for this role, specifically reading books on the politics of the region and how the government has changed over the last 40 years. The current situation being constantly in the news now has meant he has had limitless resources at his fingertips. "We first meet Halim when he is trailing Paul Ridge and he catches up to him when Paul is in conversation with Adib. It is at that moment he realizes exactly who Adib is and the story pivots at the point, as does Halim's focus which is now squarely on Adib."
"Cairo Time was a poem," said Director of Photography Luc Montpellier. "It was very structured, very much about the actors interacting within each of the frames. The city of Cairo brought out the romantic side of the lead character, Juliette. So it was important to frame her against those beautiful backdrops. But INESCAPABLE is very much the opposite. It was about how the environment started beating up Adib and his past catching up on him. It was less about the location on this film, compared to Cairo Time, as opposed to what was right for what Adib was going through."
For Nadda and Montpellier, the strategy on INESCAPABLE was reminiscent of classic thrillers that were character driven. To that end, Panavision anamorphic lenses on an Alexa camera were put to use. "These are a unique set of lenses that only Panavision makes. They create these beautiful, long flares when you point light sources within the frame. When you do that, it creates a very specific straight line across the frame. When Adib first arrives at the border, it's a sea of flares. They populated the entire border with practical light sources pointing directly at the camera which in turn created a distinct sense that that place was not very inviting. It plays more on a subconscious level. And we were meticulous about saving the flares for the tension moments when Adib is in Damascus to create an uneasiness."
"For certain scenes," Montpellier continued, "longer lenses on a hand-held camera gave more energy and immediacy to a frame, even trying to hold it as steady as you can. Ruba would guide the actors emotionally, and I would watch and react to the emotional beats. Then, stepping in as the camera operator, I'd make the decision on the spot where I felt the camera should be, and it was a very exciting thing."