There’s a lot going on in Lebanese writer-director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya’s feature debut. Three brothers – Ziad, Jad and Joe – get down with murder, drug deals, bar ownership and movie making as Very Big Shot jumps confidently between genres. With a frenetic tendency to leap before looking, it often doesn’t work, but a delightfully chaotic Producers riff and a cast going at it with gusto keeps the film afloat.
Bou Chaaya starts things off at a sprint, opening on a night time struggle that sees one man gunned down, his body dragged out of sight but not out of mind. Scenes flip past as the brothers are interrogated by the police, a verdict eventually reached that sends Jad (Wissam Fares) to prison for five years. Suddenly, we’re half a decade on and he’s out, Ziad (played in a hilariously direct manner by co-writer Alain Saadeh) is ripping off a drug deal to buy a bar, Joe (Tarek Yaacoub) is trying to stay out of trouble at a bakery and everyone is getting mixed up in a mess of a love story filmed by their wannabe friend and terrified lackey Charbel (Fouad Yammine – the other stand-out beside Saadeh).
There’s a strong case of Very Big Shot attempting to have its cake and eat it as the film presents a different face to the audience from scene to scene. Energy levels are high and never falter, but it’s wearing to have to switch so often, constant refocusing required along the way. It’s also hard to successfully generate tension within the conventional thriller elements, drama in the relationship building and satire when Bou Chaaya and Saadeh poke fun at the political culture in Lebanon. No single aspect is given the space to breathe.The exception to this rule is the strand that comes to dominate as the story progresses. Initially attempting to work out a way to smuggle stolen pills across the border into Syria, Ziad decides film containers are the perfect receptacle. To ensure this convinces, he hires enthusiastic filmmaker Charbel to provide cover by filming a trashy romance. A number of well-constructed jokes follow as Ziad becomes an increasingly activist producer, randomly introducing elements into the script that throw everyone off balance, and provoking violence that he can use to raise publicity for his movie and keep a suspicious gang boss away from the set.
Watching dream sequences that start with an argument over the logic of rain and end with a horse appearing from nowhere, or staged rows between the leading couple that inadvertently cause a mass brawl proves extremely satisfying. The drug deal creeps in occasionally, but its importance diminishes to the benefit of the film. A rushed gag in the final scene that sees Bou Chaaya and Saadeh spin on their axis again and target politics feels too obviously like an attempt to force a resolution, but there’s enough to enjoy in this inventive debut to suggest keeping an eye on them in the future.