A lovely documentary lamenting a Beirut that is no more, Jack Janssen's Dutch-financed pic frames its then-and-now essay in a national love note to Fairuz, the reclusive songstress who has enchanted listeners throughout the Middle East for half a century. Poetic piece should draw fests and select broadcasters into its wistful spell.

A lovely documentary lamenting a Beirut that is no more, Jack Janssen’s Dutch-financed “We Loved Each Other So Much” frames its then-and-now essay in a national love note to Fairuz, the reclusive songstress who has enchanted listeners throughout the Middle East for half a century. Poetic piece should draw fests and select broadcasters into its wistful spell.

Sort of an Arab Piaf (though she looks more like a cross between Streisand and Callas), Fairuz acquired an enormous popularity that cut across national lines, while her patriotism made her almost a living personification of the Lebanese soul. (She is particularly admired as one of the few wealthy people who didn’t flee abroad during the civil war.)

Her recordings are heard throughout the pic, drawn from a repertoire that stretched from traditional sounds to Jobim and Brel-like contempo songs, though heartbreak, self-sacrifice and closeness to the land were constant themes.

She’s seen only in glamorous old stills — suggesting a dramatic performance style — until pic ends with a brief recent concert clip.

Resulting air of mystery is apt for a film that quickly expands from diehard fans’ testimonies to a general requiem for the idyllic (at least in retrospect) “Paris of the Middle East” that existed before the 15-year civil war commenced in 1975.

Interviewing just a couple of folks with some formal tie to Fairuz (who didn’t participate in the docu herself), Janssen taps mostly average citizens of all ages, professions and ethnicities, all of whom seem to regard the diva in near-sacred terms. They also see her as a poignant reminder of a time when “Life had more purity and peace,” when people simply seemed to love one another more.

By contrast, they see modern Beirut life as dominated by greed, aggression, hypocrisy, inflation, political corruption and religious/racial factionalism. “It’s all a big mess, and you’re not allowed to say so,” one cabbie summarizes.

Despite somewhat sorrowful edge, however, “We Loved” finds enough humor and indomitable spirit in its subjects to avoid becoming a cinematic dirge.

Warm color lensing tops a well-turned package.

We Loved Each Other So Much

Netherlands

Production

A Pieter van Huystee Film and Ikon production. Produced by Pieter van Huystee. Directed by Jack Janssen.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm), Martijn van Beenen; editor, Menno Boerema; sound, Wib Nelissen, Marco Vermaas. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, April 19, 2004. Running time: 81 MIN.
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