A great film.
West Beirut (1998)
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A great film.
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.
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.
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.
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.
'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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.