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.
scenes- funny scenes and witty dialog necessary for "comic relief."
true for creator artists, say musicians, composers and painters.
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-
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
history, ethnic culture and politics of the complex background
of the Middle East plighted by the incendiary Jewish Muslim
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!
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
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.
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,
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
Suspension of Disbelief
Kurds in ‘A taste of cherry’
and ‘The wind will carry
Kurdish Identity and
Culture in the Films of
Yol: A monument to
An interview with the
director Lauand Omar
David & Layla: Criticism
of cultural biases and
celebration of love!
Interview with Yilmaz
David & Layla
Pain of Giving Birth
Crossing the Border The
New Kurdish Cinema
Yol - Jalal Jonroy
Breaking the Silence