In Beirut, fighting between Lebanese Muslims and Christian militias has left the city partitioned. Cut off from school, young Tarek and his friends Omar and May happily roam the ruined streets, making forays across no-mans-land despite the snipers and enjoying their freedom as only kids can, while the communities grow further and further apart and future looks increasingly black. A fast, funny and moving first film from the young Lebanese writer/director Ziad Doueiri.
Lebanon 1998, 110 minutes
Beirut, 1975. Fighting between Lebanese Muslims and Christian militias has split the city: East Beirut is Christian, West Beirut is Muslim; between is a no-man’s-land covered by snipers. Young Tarek’s parents are also divided: his mother wants to leave, his father wants to stay. Beirut’s seen violence before; if they can wait – or last – long enough, it will stop. And meantime – hey, Tarek and his friend Omar live in West Beirut, and school’s in the east! Wicked! The two lads, sometimes with May, a young Christian girl, in tow, happily roam the ruined city, relishing the anarchy war brings and filming with Omar’s ciné camera. But the film processing shop is also in East Beirut, necessitating unexpectedly educational forays across no-man’s-land.
Without going into detail about why the fighting broke out, the film explores its effects; food shortages, massacres in the street, frayed nerves leading to frayed tempers and further conflict. For there’s more than one conflict in Lebanon: between Christian and Muslim, between school and home, between neighbours living on top of each other with little hope of escape, and between the generations – to Tarek, the bombed-out streets are a wonderful playground, the setting for his own real-life boy’s own adventure, but he’s sensitive enough to realise the strain on his parents as the months pass and the violence doesn’t.
Ziad Doueiri’s first film as writer/director draws on his own experiences growing up in Beirut in the 1970s. Much has been made of his film ‘apprenticeship’ as Tarantino’s assistant cameraman, but this is both lighter and more profound; owing more to the neo-realists of the 1950s than to Reservoir Dogs. By showing Beirut through the children’s eyes he has made a film about war, friendship and growing up that is serious but often great fun. Like growing up it’s episodic, and there’s no conventional ending. Perhaps just as well: a happy one was never on the cards, and at least Doueiri has spared us the opposite.
Tarek: Rami Doueiri
Omar: Mohammad Chamas
May: Roda Al Amin
Director, Screenplay: Ziad Doueiri
Producers: Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Bréhat
Photography: Richard Jacques Gale