From its opening, slightly surreal image of a young man and woman in wedding clothes wending their way ever so slowly through a dimly lit tunnel, their outlines a blur as they inch toward the camera, Dima El-Horr’s Every Day Is a Holiday establishes a singular and often haunting visual signature. As the film follows its central trio of women wandering through a Lebanese desert, their journey often takes on a hallucinatory power thanks to such strikingly incongruous imagery as the nattily dressed threesome trying to round up a group of flapping chickens or overhead shots of migrants making their way across the sand, complemented by the threatening noises of airplanes and rockets on the soundtrack. But El-Horr’s insistence on a strategic abstraction at nearly all levels (narrative, thematic, characterization), a tendency that increases the closer the film gets to its arid conclusion, makes moot the question of handsome imagery. What at first seemed like a suggestive vagueness ends by being simply vague.
At least initially, El-Horr seems interested in exploring the untenable situation of women in the Middle East, particularly in their relationship with their men. En route to a prison to visit their husbands, the central trio find themselves stranded in the desert when a bullet pierces the windshield of their bus, lodging itself in the driver’s skull. As the three begin their wandering through a landscape under threat from a mysterious and unspecified uprising, little details of their past seep out. Tamara (Raïa Haïdar) explains how her husband was arrested on their wedding day. Later, dazed by her wanderings, she collapses; in a stupor, she curses her spouse. Lina (Manal Khader), hoping to have her husband sign the annulment papers she carries with her, is so revolted by that man that her sexual disgust has manifested itself into an imagined stink emanating from her vagina. Hala’s (Hiam Abbass) story is less explicitly stated. The details only come through in little dribbles as when a chicken farmer who gives the women a ride (and who plans on turning them in) comments on the tendency of the men in his village to go to jail, come home to impregnate their wives, and then get locked up again, to which Hala scornfully replies, “That’s an old story. I’ve heard that one before.”
But this theme—along with other potentially fruitful avenues of discovery, such as the diverse geographic and linguistic backgrounds of the three women—is treated with the same unproductive obliqueness as everything else in the film. Instead, El-Horr increasingly relies on a series of dream sequences to fill in the women’s inner lives, interludes that, while occasionally striking, tell us very little about the trio or their situations. As their wanderings continue, it becomes clear that the film is not really about anything other than the assemblage of a bunch of lovely, empty images that in the film’s final third run aground on the cliffs of narrative abstraction. This abstraction culminates in a cryptic conclusion both abrupt and unsatisfying not only on the level of plotting, but on aesthetic and thematic grounds as well. Reflecting back at film’s end Tamara notes, “I had come this far to find out what love is and about death.” Having traveled that same distance, the viewer has found out neither.