Fourteen years away from the director's chair have boosted anticipation levels beyond sustainability for helmer Samir Habchi and "Beirut Open City."

Fourteen years away from the director’s chair have boosted anticipation levels beyond sustainability for helmer Samir Habchi and “Beirut Open City.” Set in the 1990s, when Syrian hegemony in Lebanon tightened its grip, pic views the situation through a young Egyptian filmmaker who believes in the country’s openness until reality literally hits him in the face. Titular reference to Roberto Rossellini’s classic sets up impossible parallels, and while the story’s gist is commendable, its construction is weak. Regional play could be decent, though war weariness may hamper Lebanese B.O.

Punchy opening turns muddy, as Khaled (Khaled El Nabawi) takes his vid camera where it’s not wanted. A rendezvous with political dissident Hamid (Rodney Al Haddad) is intercut with fast-paced shots of the U.S. ambassador’s speeding motorcade, a literal juggernaut with agents gunning down civilians in its path. Habchi (“The Tornado”) shifts between Khaled’s raw footage and his disintegrating hold on the political climate and occasional nightmarish fantasies. While the helmer makes clear that Lebanon is being screwed by Syria and tossed aside by the Americans, his justified anger needs honing: An overabundance of match cuts, along with uninspired framing, retard involvement.

Beirut Open City

Egypt

Production

A Misr Intl. Film production, in association with Sunnyland Films. Produced by Gabriel Khoury. Executive producer, Joelle Bitar. Directed, written by Samir Habchi.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), Milad Tauk; editor, Tony Partamian; music, Jamal Abu Elhossen; production designer Nassry Tawk; costume designer, Desiree Daccache. Reviewed at Middle East Film Festival (competing), Abu Dhabi, Oct. 16, 2008. (Also in London Film Festival -- World Cinema.) Original title: Doukhan bila nar. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Khaled El Nabawi, Diamond Bu Abbud, Rodney Al Haddad, Cyrine Abdelnour, Joseph Bou Nassar, Rifaat Tarabay, Nicolas Daniel.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more