West Beirut (1998) Poster

(1998)

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10/10
Thank God for Indie Movie Channels and the Indies they show
CullenCooks30 October 2002
Thank God for IFC and the Sundance Channel here in the U.S. Without these two channels, there are so many films that I otherwise would never have known about less alone actually watched: especially living in the heart of Los Angeles, Studio Capital of the World. I was lucky enough though to stumble upon West Beirut and I just fell in love with it. Somebody in the user comments section said that it was "a very beautiful and funny film if you are arabic", but I'd have to strongly disagree because as a westerner and and an american I found it perhaps even more funny and beautiful as a result of where I come from. Not to get into politics, but it's kind of hard not to, it is so refreshing and wonderful and eye opening to see a film with arab characters in their homeland living their lives the way they really did and would instead of only knowing that part of the world from the violence that is constantly strewn about on the evening news and the constant 'propaganda machine' of american media which seems to be totally controlled and run nowadays by corporations and pharmaceutical companies. This movie, for me, just reinforced the idea that we are all alike no matter where we live on this planet and I find it sad to think that the only way I have to find out and appreciate a history lesson on Beirut or the life of the lebanese is through a film. Being an american, if you listen to our government at all, it would be a really bad idea to travel to the middle east. And so without films like this, it would be impossible for me to experience the oneness of all of us or a glimpse of a country and it's culture. What a beautiful idea it would be to cut out the Bush administration and all the other governments for a month out of the year and allow everyone from each country to go and look at the other side. I think we'd all benefit strongly. Until then, I'll thank movies like West Beirut for being made and allowing me the luxury of being part of another world for a couple of hours.

A great film.
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Lacking a strong narrative but is still an interesting personal film with a good sense for time and place
bob the moo20 January 2005
In 1974's Beirut Tarek is a normal kid – making Super 8 movies, hanging out with friend Omar and getting in trouble at school. Conflicts are fun distractions and even when civil war proper erupts between Muslims and Christians, it is all still a bit of a game to Tarek, giving him time off school and interesting things to see. However with the city split in two, Tarek's mother wants to leave but his father insists they will be fine to stay. Meanwhile Tarek befriends May, a Christian girl living in his building; but as the conflict deepens tensions rise and the war becomes less of a game and more of a tragedy.

I am usually interested in films that draw on personal experience because sometimes they can be very enjoyable and interesting and I accept the risk that some will be so personal that the director/writer loses sight of what he is doing and will make a film that doesn't translate well to those without the same degree of personal insight. So with West Beyrouth I was interested enough already and wasn't coming to it as some of the Tarantino completest that seem to have seen it. The film deals with a time and a place that I will not claim to fully understand or even know that much about – I have always been more interesting in political/religious wars that are closer to home for me than in the complexities of the Middle East etc but this film doesn't concern itself with making points; it is more about growing up during this time.

As such I felt it missed out on a chance to provide a wider understanding, although it did open the doors for a more personal view of the conflict. As the latter the film does work pretty well as I can't really think of another "coming-of-age" story set in such a place. The problem with it though is that, like a "you had to be there" joke, it doesn't totally translate to the screen in terms of being an engaging narrative. Yes, the period and place are very well delivered and the direction is blessed with real experience but the story didn't draw me in and it did feel like a collection of personal memories, strung together the best they could have been but not really that good a story. The cast are also pretty mixed. The director's own brother, Rami, is quite good in the lead but he is more "in" the scenes rather than being of great interest himself – or rather, I didn't feel he enabled me to emotionally buy into the film. Al Amin is gorgeous and seems a lot more natural, shame the film didn't use her more. Chamas was selected for the role after picking a fight with the crew and he is generally good enough to do the job, but for large sections it does feel like he is trying too hard and maybe overdoing his delivery. Supporting roles are all OK but these three were the key and they were generally OK if not anything wonderful.

Overall this is an OK film that is an interesting enough look at the conflict from the point of view of trying to grow up in it. The direction is good and has a personal touch along with a good eye for time and place but as writer Doueiri isn't as confident and his collection of memories don't manage to come together in an engaging narrative. Worth watching once if you're after a "teen" film that is different from the usual US collection of jocks and nerds, but not a completely satisfying film on the whole.
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7/10
Super movie, very "edutaining"
ian_harris23 July 2002
Well you certainly don't become an expert on Late 20th century Lebanese politics by watching this movie. But for those of us with an outside interest and a yawning gap of understanding and knowledge, this movie is superb "edutainment". It both educates and entertains.

The transition of the civil war through the eyes of these youngsters, as the movie goes on is moving. It starts off more or less as an adventure. It takes time to dawn on the characters that the civil war is tearing their lives apart.

The family debates about whether to stay or go are very moving. We know many people in the Lebanese community here in the UK, many of them (or their parents) must have gone through those heart-wrenching decisions back then.

The "romance" between the Muslim boy(s) and the Christian girl is also moving. It avoids the trap of descending into a Levantine Romeo & Juliet, however it seems a shame that the girl seems to just drift out of the story-line just at the point that we are all falling in love with her!

See it, it will be worth it.
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1/10
A false story about the Lebanese war
nutracker201317 September 2017
This movie was made during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and so showed a false version of the real facts that started the Lebanese war 1975-1990. This movie is showing a Muslim-Christian problem that triggered the war while in reality it started between Palestinians and Lebanese. This movie is part of the big propaganda line the Syrian regime tried to do for years, putting a ''civil'' war name for the Lebanese war while it was in reality a war between Lebanese and Palestinians, then Lebanese and Syrians as well as Israelis
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10/10
Very true experience of the Lebanese civil war.
Hani6 February 1999
West Beiruth is an excellent film. It reveals the true image of the civil war in Lebanon, through the eyes and adventures of two young friends, on the way to their adulthood. Experiencing love, friendship, a split society, and the horrors of war. West Beiruth is not a high budget movie, but it is very good in Directing, cinematography, script and acting. I would very much recommend it to everybody. It is a must see.
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6/10
Travelogues - where West meets West
Ron Plasma16 September 1999
Far from a great movie, but definitely an education. Sometimes I think that I have lived so long in this age of mass visual communication that my experience of, thankfully remote, horrors is endless. The depressing adult world depicted here is a generation away and my memory contains only occasional headlines. This despite "Beirut" having entered into common parlance as a metaphor for the dereliction and deprivation often evident in our poorer and less socially minded council estates. Ziad Doueiri's film cleverly interweaves the facts with the emotions of ordinary people and the result deserves a round of applause if not a standing ovation.

Film review over. Technology review. Did I ever in my wildest dreams of the mid-seventies imagine that I would share such a global platform as this with the likes of many of the commenters below me? For them this movie must be all too real. Nice one guys. Rave on Internet. Rave on IMDB.

Ron
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6/10
Another vision of a Lebanese director!
maradona28 February 1999
It will not be the last film on the Lebanese war that you'll ever see, because the industry is just getting on its feet, but it is most certainly the most selfcentered of all.

It depicts the somehow distorted facts of the life of one Ziad El-Doueiri(the director) in an attempt to show you all fine people what is the Lebanese war. It is far more complicated than this simplified version of it. Even we cannot figure it yet.

Let talk about the film itself. The script is pathetic, there is no story, it seems to me like a student film with a little more of a budget (gee man, I wanna a bus and a lot of machine guns and I want them to go boom, so please can we do that?) with no real ending.

The dialogs are simple, no real one anyways, just a little bit of statements and a lot of shouting from a character. But in this nightmare, some scenes are worth it, like the bicycle scene and the underwear scene. Better yet, and in defense of this film, I must say that it is an overall "chemin initiatique" for the boys, and this we understand very clearly. But if you noticed my use of the term "film" and not "movie" to indicate the subject, it's because in no way good or bad, this film can be rated a movie, for its lack of entertaining and logic.

All in all, it's an over-rated, distorted events piece of film. And what bother me most, is that some of the Lebanese viewers found it very bad, but very good for Lebanese industry. Though it's tragically true, it also very pathetic.

Well, let's hope for the best, in the best of worlds possible.
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8/10
Exhilarating and poignant, as the teen movie gives onto the war film.
Alice Liddel9 April 2001
When making a film about divisive national conflicts, a familiar device is to frame the historical subject matter in a rites-of-passage narrative. This device produces a number of effects - a contrast between life as the audience knows it, and a historical reality they do not; by following a child's awakening, growing experience and knowledge of the world, it can reveal history and war as a lived experience, and not as something isolated in a textbook; it can show the progress of history as a kind of fall from innocence, as if any child's entering adulthood forces him to acknowledge shocking truths that are merely intensified in a war situation.

'West Beirut' tells the tale of Tarek, a gawky, humungously hootered smart aleck and class clown whom we first see disrupting assembly by blaring Lebanese over a megaphone during 'La Marseillaise'. For some reason, his liberal-left parents have sent him to a French school - this is the first historical nuance the viewer is expected to pick up on: if s/he doesn't, tough.

These opening sequences, messing about with his cousin Omar at school, furtively smoking and staring at attractive relatives, winding up obese neighbours, have something of the freewheeling joy found in a contemporaneous film about adolescence ('West Beirut' is set in 1975), Louis Malle's 'Murmur of the Heart'.

Except, even at this stage, everything is fraught, riven by division - the two languages Tarek speaks, the different religions among whom he co-exists; the different levels of space he inhabits. When he is punished and thrown out of class for disrupting the anthem, he witnesses the beginning of war, the shooting of the passengers on a bus. Again, we are expected to know which side is which, what they're fighting for etc. The main thing is, Tharek's expulsion and the beginning of the war seem to be intimately mixed, almost as if his transgression caused it; and so beings a pattern that shapes the film.

Everything you would expect from a rites-of-passage film is here, but tainted by the war environment - Tarek's first girlfriend is a Christian, making him aware of religious bigotry; his accidental visit to a brothel, his first sexual experience, brings alive to him the division of his city - it's always the subculture that suffers in situations like this. 1970s Lebanon is surprisingly Westernised and liberal, but a general retrenchment occurs, and Omar is expected to go to Mosque. It suddenly becomes dangerous to know the 'wrong' people, and the pressure of this division extends beyond friends into the family itself, between a pride that refuses to be bullied (Tarek's father), and a fear that just wants to get out (his mother).

One of the great things about this film is the way it brings you into a war situation - like us, the characters don't really know what's happening, they have no context - this is random, present-tense, frightening, where the morning cock crow is replaced by bombs as an alarm clock; where military 'protection' is no different from gangsterism. Doueiri's handheld style, used initially to heighten the vividness of youth, can easily adapt to the urgency of war, flitting between the two. The film never betrays either, never suggests childish games are somehow less important.

Omar is a young filmmaker, filming his friends and the city around him. One subplot centres around a film developer on the other side of the city border. A recurrent motif is of looking, being a voyeur, getting to know the world through accessing and interpreting visual information. This may be a biographical portrait of the director as a Young Artist. But, in its modest way, 'West Beirut' performs the same function as Nabokov's 'Speak Memory', using memory, nostalgia, autobiography, not as a comfy escape, but as an artistic weapon against a totalitarian present.
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10/10
What is your activation energy?
Komombo24 September 1999
I have seen this movie several times, the first time at a private screening in Los Angeles. It was a powerful experience shared by the many attendees that connected and understood this movie in a very special way. The roller coaster of emotions (sadness, laughter, anger, hope, despair, etc.) left me so exhausted I literally needed an energy bar afterwards.

There are a few things I MUST say about this movie. First, it is an excellent work overall, light with its humor, touching with its sincerity, striking with its honesty, and plain good looking and sounding (hats off to the awesome tracks by Stewart Copeland, the man is a genius). Second, this movie is not only a Herculean first effort for Director/Writer Ziad Doueiri (who had to seek funding and support from around the globe), but also the first respectable and universal Lebanese film to invade the world cinematic circuit. Third, the movie's inaccuracies are irrelevant especially to a worldwide audience that seeks entertainment and dramatic content; and this movie achieves both with adeptness. If you are a history buff and/or have zero tolerance for fiction and poetry (in pictures, words, and music) then this movie is not for you.

I wondered after the screening what it was that moved me to tears in West Beirut, and I could not remember one single moment. I later realized that this movie did for me (a Lebanese that grew up in the west part of Beirut during the war) what no other movie has done before it: tell OUR story. I felt like a released prisoner, like a person who regained the ability to speak after years of silence, like....you get the idea. The sad thing is that very few in the Western hemisphere either really cared or understood the Lebanese people or their war experience, but this movie opens a big door and sheds a great light into one of the many dark corners of this Middle Eastern region.

For the "universal" emigrant (whether Lebanese or Bosnian or Kosovar)this movie is a must see; it offer a lifeline to those with a past that is both lamented and cherished. As to the rest of you out there, this movie is not only highly entertaining, but also a refreshing and necessary look at a people and area of the world that have been unfortunately misunderstood and maligned for years. So kill your TV for one night and activate your energy to go see this movie, you will not regret it.

Ziad and West Beirut deserve big applause and respect for what they have achieved. They have broken barriers (how many Lebanese movies have you seen lately?), taboos ("In the West we are called camel jockeys"), and Western perceptions of the Lebanese in general. I frankly can't wait to see the fruits of Ziad's next film. Hurry man, We need the fix!
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10/10
Congrats on this truely poignant work
Ould5 September 1999
rarely does one see a film that represent what is real behind a war. This movie takes a strikingly real look on what war is to the poeple that surround it, to the students that grow during it, and to the neighbourhoods that survive it. It vivaviously captures the hopeful streak of taking pleasure in existing no matter what the odds. Coming from a Lebanese director; it is a non-indulgent petite masterpiece that may just rescusitate a form of cinema with an honesty only yearned for in that part of the world.

Bravo.
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5/10
A slice of Beirut life with no clear purpose or direction.
George Parker27 May 2001
"West Beirut" is a plotless, non-story, non-documentary, meandering slice-of-life flick about a teenage boy's life in the early days of the Lebanese civil war when Beirut became divided into East and West. Although the film examines Beirut civilian life under the pall of war, it doesn't deal with any specific issue sufficiently to give it purpose. It's not particularly entertaining, evocative, or compelling; does not chronicle events well; is a poor study in history; and is void of romance, mayhem, comedy, suspense, or any of the things which people go to movies to see. "West Beirut" has the "feel" of a make-it-up-as-you-go low budget journeyman drama. Recommended only for those with special interest in Lebanon.
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2/10
fiction
pbassamgeagea13 May 2006
i have seen this movie, and i am a Lebanese. this movie is an alienation of history and is in no way related to the historical course that the Lebanese war took. it is not recommended to build a view of the Lebanese war, based on this movie. it describes the beginning of the war in a unilateral point of view and is one-sided. too bad the director couldn't make a better movie with the good plot he had. more historical reviews and interviewing many still-alive witnesses would have helped. the Lebanese haven't yet produced a movie about the war that meets their expectations, and the mere fact that the issue of the war is not yet solved amongst different communities make sit difficult to produce a movie about it now.
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10/10
First Class cinema
Cedrus15 July 2003
I wouldn't know how a non-Lebanese would look at this film. But to me, it's a very personal movie because I've lived similar events, even if 10 years later. It's definitely one of my favourite movies. And I have to say that the 3 leads have done great jobs for first-timers. "Carmen Lebbos" as the mother was superb, but my favourite character will always be "Leila Karam as" "Emm walid"
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10/10
Great movie
eido8889 December 2002
I lived outside Lebanon my entire life. When I went back ten years after the war has ended, I saw a normal style of life. Although I have learned a lot about the civil through my dad and books, but I was not able to imagine the way the war was conducted. The weird incidents of two men talking to each other one day, and then killing each other the next day. I did not comprehend the killing of two Lebanese guys of each other due to different of religious sects. When I saw this movie with my dad, I felt a small gesture of sadness coming out of my father.

The details of the movie were close enough to the sad reality that happened in Lebanon. Even the militia check points were similar to the one my father told me about. The main characters in the movie were two Muslim boys and a Christian girl. Despite the lack of work, food, and other necessities, their families did not leave their houses. Ziad Doueiri, the writer and director imbedded a true concept of reality inside this movie. The innocence of the children playing around with no schools to go to and sometimes fall into dangerous situations made the movie more beautiful and gave it some sense of black satire.

The story involves mainly three kids. Tarek lives with his parents in West Beirut. He and his best friend Omar are filming films and yearning to unravel the mysteries of sex. They then meet Maya, a pretty Christian girl who moves into their neighbourhood. The three of them have several adventures in the chaotic streets patrolled by Muslim militias. Tarek's most exotic experience is a surprise visit to a famous bordello run by Madame Oum Walid where he learns that peace doesn't come easily when religious hatred is involved.
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9/10
The other side of war
Sean Gallagher3 September 1999
Having lived in North America my entire life, and only seeing the rest of the world through movies, books, and TV, I confess I have no experience of what the world is like when your home is a battlefield, especially in places like the Balkans and the Middle East, which have been sources of strife for several centuries. For many, of course, it's a source of tragedy. But what about those who may live on the edge of conflict, but aren't directly involved? For those who the challenge is simply to fit your day to day life around the war? HOPE AND GLORY was a film like that, though it was also about a little boy who could of course only see school was out, and WEST BEIRUT is like that as well; in fact, it retains the child-like view of HOPE AND GLORY but balances it with the adult viewpoint.

Writer-director Ziad Doueiri isn't interested in making a tract about the Lebanese Civil War(though he doesn't slight from its horrors, as in its opening scene of the bus massacre), but rather picking up the details of everyday life there. If there's a message, and Doueiri refreshingly doesn't hammer us over the head with one, it seems to be this; you do what you can. That's the attitude of the father of the main character Tarak; when both his wife and his son want to leave, he reminds them they really have no place else to go, these things have happened before, but they will stop, and life will go on. You can even find humor in your existence(as when Tarak escapes a battle by hiding in a car, which then takes him to what he thinks is a group of guerrillas but turns out to be something else entirely).

Doueiri, who was the second-unit cameraman on every film Quentin Tarantino directed, not only shows his visual flair, but also tells a compelling story, although with a few slow spots, and while the main characters are teens coming of age, we see the adult point of view as well; sometimes it's mocked(when Tarak's friend Omar complains his father thinks all Western culture is the devil's work, Tarak replies, puzzled, "How does Paul Anka come from Satan?"), but mostly it's taken seriously, and that, I think, helps make this a good film. Doueiri and his brother Rami(who plays Tarak) are ones to watch.
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10/10
EXCELLENT MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
mhellerman17 May 2003
This is a WONDERFUL movie, it is a historical glimpse on Lebanon, 1975, through the eyes of a teenager. If (usually) U.S. citizens ask themselves "how can "those people" live in "those countries"? This is the perfect answer to it. When you have a LIFE, FRIENDS, FAMILY, when you don't believe that things can be changed, when life is LIKE THAT, you accept things that you cannot change.

The protagonist (EXCELLENT actor Rami Doueiri) goes through life as a happy go lucky teenager, used to living under such political changes, but untouched by them. In this movie of "coming of age", you can follow him in his seamless transition into adulthood: the realization of what life has became.

PLEASE DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE - IT IS A MUST SEE - from any angle that you may want to look at it. You will gain different undertanding of things that you probably had before, if you are not a citizen from Lebanon, watch it and learn something.
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6/10
Great slice of history, but without a story to match
Figaro-627 August 1999
I was glad to have seen this film, since it showed me a part of the world that I have never seen in such detail before. And despite having no first-hand knowledge of the country, I nonetheless felt there was an authenticity and sincerity about the film that appealed to me. I have heard that there are some inaccurate details, but "West Beyrouth" does not presume to explain any of the larger historical or political events. Rather, it wishes to communicate something of the experience of living in a world being torn apart by forces that can seem nearly incomprehensible by those caught between them. And in that goal, I felt the film enjoyed some success.

I was interested by all the characters as they were introduced, but as the film progresses most of them wind up going in circles, repeating themselves, or just standing idly by. The story, which starts out effectively, loses its narrative drive, and things muddle ahead until eventually the movie is over. I thought it was a shame that a film that so vividly evoked a place and time, could not offer a story of similar strength.

The performances are good, though, and there is some fine music by Stewart Copeland as well. "West Beyrouth" may function better as a glimpse into history than as an engrossing cinematic work, but I still felt it to be worthwhile viewing.
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10/10
Pretty Real...pretty beautiful.
Homerspy3 October 1999
I saw a preview for this movie when I was visiting Montreal early this July and when I came back home to California I had no idea where I could go to see it because it looked so good. Yesterday I saw it in LA with family and friends and each one of them walked out of the movie just amazed. I'm 18 and I lived in Lebanon till I was 8 and I could relate to so many parts of the movie. It captured so many real emotions and moments that happened to so many families and teenagers and kids at that time. The directing is great and the acting progresses and gets better and better as the movie comes along. The movie is not only for those who could relate to the war in Lebanon however, it is a good enough movie to keep you laughing and crying and in suspense the whole time. IF you can find this movie playing anywhere near you dont miss it!
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10/10
Great plot
Wassoum12 October 1999
West Beirut is an authentic image of the civil war in Beirut, it's so real to a point that everyone of us, me at least, lived under very similar circumstances of the war. It's a mixture of an adventurous childhood, unstoppable war and a new daily life influenced and ruled by zo3ran like Darwish, Arafat and Jmayel!
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9/10
Stunning - I Highly Recommend This One
David30 November 2002
Warning: Spoilers
I've seen WEST BEIRUT several times at this point - it has become one of my fave recent world films, and made me curious to see what other Lebanese films I might've missed out on.

*MINOR SPOILERS*

An extremely accomplished debut from Lebanese-American filmmaker Ziad Douieri, WEST BEIRUT is loosely patterned after Francois Truffaut's 400 BLOWS, and blends a similar tale of growing up in troubled or uncertain settings, with a detailed examination of a nation collapsing into a civil war of extraordinary violence. The film does demand a little knowledge of history from the audience - actual events not depicted in the film are occasionally referred to in passing, which isn't really a weakness, though WEST BEIRUT (the title of the film refers to the partitioning of the city into Christian and Moslem enclaves) doesn't spoon-feed anything either.

The slice-of-life, episodic nature of the film is perfectly suited to the material - the film follows a downward narrative trajectory from adventure and youthful mischief towards tragedy - with many moments reflective a splintering world around you, but many moments that you can immediately identify with.
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Outstanding filmaking but some distortion of facts
zack-1614 February 1999
Outstanding filmmaking and accurate description of the state of mind that people were in during the Lebanese civil war. There was one distortion of facts though; The bus featured at the beginning of the film was not full of civilians, it was filled with terrorists from the Palestine liberation organization, I did not appreciate the deliberate distortion of history.
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8/10
A One-Side Slice of Life
hddu1013 October 2016
This movie really ranks up there with the best of Indie cinema on several levels. It is amazingly powerful and creative given the budget. While I (like many) criticize the one-sided/distorted version of events (i.e. the bus scene at the beginning where seemingly civilians are shot, when in reality they were PLO fighters), they can almost be forgiven if we put ourselves in the mindset of a child of the protagonist's age trying to figure things out, and only gets the information he is told (from his own Muslim faction). There are also a few other subtle digs at Christians (i.e. the amiable neighborhood pedophile happens to be named "Christian"), and the homosexual overtones are a bit unsettling (the author is gay, and understandably this is his story, but they could have been left out since this has to do with children). Overall, the story achieves its purpose of how war robs children and families of normalcy, when in the end that's really all most people want. The musical score is beyond exquisite and this is definitely worth watching.
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8/10
Great movie about the civil war in Lebanon!
Amroyy1 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Let me start by saying that I'm a Lebanese guy, and I had to see this movie for that reason. It tells the tale of two regular Muslim boys who meet a regular Christian girl, and they become friends and while trying to find a camera shop, they explore different areas in the war torn city of Beirut. In the middle of the search, they find themselves in a brothel that really was rather popular back in the 80s. The bread and food shortage was also a huge problem during the civil war. This movie is an accurate depiction of the Lebanese civil war and it is well made despite the rather low budget. I can absolutely recommend this movie at least to everyone who is interested in the Lebanese civil war.
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A reminder of a Lebanon I hope we never see again
rogerdarlington1 May 2011
The DVD of this Arabic-language film was given to me by a British friend working in Beirut shortly after my visit to the city. It is set in Muslim side of Beirut at the beginning of the civil war in 1975 and it was written and directed by Lebanese-born 36-year-old Ziad Doueiri who worked as a cameraman on three of Quentin Tarantino's films.

In many ways, it is a very personal work: the central character, the teenage Tarik, is played by the director's young brother Rami and Rami's educated parents are loosely based on his own. In other ways, it has more universal themes, since it is a rite of passage movie that portrays the loss of casual innocence, accentuated by the experience of conflict - much like the British "Hope And Glory" which was one inspiration.

"West Beirut" is both emotional and amusing and it full of wonderful characters, but it probably helps appreciation of the film to know something of Lebanon's factional and fratricidal politics and the ending is rather abrupt and down-beat.
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A tender, honest, visually enthralling look at Beirut in 1975 through the eyes of adventurous teens
ametaphysicalshark12 August 2008
Ziad Doueiri, whose credentials as a cameraman include "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown", crafts one of the most memorable directorial debuts of the 90's in this coming of age tale set in Beirut in 1975 after the civil war breaks out. The film is a remarkably realistic (and obviously autobiographical) portrayal of a Beirut at the time as well as the numerous social and religious rifts in Lebanese culture, but is mostly focused on the experiences of three teenagers, Tarek (the main character, played by the director's brother Rami), Omar (his friend), and May, a Christian girl who recently moved to Beirut.

That is what makes this film completely unique among those centered on Middle Eastern political and relgious issues, that it uses three young characters who are just beginning to explore life and sex to look at the issues that keep Lebanon so fractured to this day. It's through their relatively innocent eyes that much of the ugliness of war is portrayed in the film, and the scenes with them are far more affecting than those with Tarek's parents or any of the other supporting characters simply because Doueiri expertly captures the initial playfulness of their movement through the city and how naive their view of war is, only for them to slowly realize how serious the situation is (at one point Omar and Tarek join in a rally without knowing the implications of what they were calling for, only for the rally to be attacked by militants. The group's innocence is completely lost in a remarkable scene where the three attempt to get a Super 8 film developed only to come across a group of fervent Islamist militants, who capture them and are literally seconds away from discovering the cross May wears around her neck, the equivalent of a death sentence at the time, before Omar talks them into releasing the three. Doueiri claims this incident actually occurred.

Doueiri's style is loose and liberated, obviously influenced by the French New Wave and featuring excellent use of hand-held camera. Anyone expecting a concise, tight narrative will be disappointed, as "West Beyrouth" (the title is a reflection of how frequently and interchangeably French and English are used in Lebanon in place of Arabic) is a loosely-knit, episodic sort of film which suits the nature of its story very well.

What is really refreshing about this film is that it has absolutely no political agenda to push, it is purely about the characters and about how normal citizens are affected by this sort of guerrilla warfare. The film is remarkably human in its approach and execution, never attempting to be a tear-jerker and always maintaining a sense of humor (not one always well-captured by the English subtitles, which are otherwise serviceable), which only makes the drama seem more real when it does occur, not that much of this film is fiction. An outstanding debut from a gifted director.

9/10
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