×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

West Beyrouth

Lebanese scripter-helmer Ziad Doueiri makes a richly assured debut with "West Beirut," Lebanon's answer to "Hope and Glory."

With:
Tarek - Rami Doueiri Omar - Mohamad Chamas May - Rola Al Amin With: Carmen Lebbos, Joseph Bou Nassar, Liliane Nemry, Leila Karam, Hassan Frahat, Mahmoud Mabsout, Fadi Abou Khalil. (Arabic and French dialogue)

Lebanese scripter-helmer Ziad Doueiri makes a richly assured debut with “West Beirut,” Lebanon’s answer to “Hope and Glory.” Lively, historically freighted coming-of-age tale is a technically polished, frequently funny and emotionally affecting work that bodes well indeed for creative rebirth in this now-recovering corner of the Middle East. Pic’s geographical setting, no-name cast and Arabic dialogue may sound daunting to potential distribs, but pic actually fits nicely into the current wave of ’70s-set tales. While hardtops are deciding whether to take the plunge, fests won’t have to think twice.

Much as John Boorman’s WWII memoir posited that war may be hell but it’s also sort of nifty if you’re a kid, 90% autobiographical pic from Quentin Tarantino’s assistant cameraman portrays the freewheeling adventures of a resourceful and irreverent adolescent boy in the early stages of the civil war that divided Beirut into East and West.

Self-assured class clown Tarek (helmer’s brother, Rami Doueiri) is bounced from class by his French teacher on April 13, 1975, just in time to observe the bloody massacre of 30 bus passengers by masked gunmen that marked the start of civil war. Tarek and his feisty buddy Omar (Mohamad Chamas, whom helmer cast from an orphanage) are picked up by Tarek’s mom, Hala (Carmen Lebbos). Hala, a lawyer, and her intellectual husband, Riad (Joseph Bou Nassar), enjoy a loving marriage and an indulgent, joshing relationship with their bright but hormone-addled only son.

The next day’s papers do little to clarify what’s really going on, but it’s already impossible for Muslims to cross into East Beirut, and school is closed, apparently for good. Hala is ready to pull up stakes and flee after the first few bombing raids, but Riad has seen armed conflicts threaten and subside all his life. He doesn’t believe the current troubles will last long and refuses to budge.

With his open manner and infectious grin, lanky, bell-bottomed Tarek is on friendly terms with all the neighborhood characters, particularly Hassan (Mahmoud Mabsout), a baker and falafel vendor. Tarek, Omar and their new neighbor, May (Rola Al Amin), a lovely young Christian girl, enjoy the unprecedented freedom to explore occasioned by a complete disruption of routine. But the war hits home when the trio’s mission to drop off Super-8 film (including surreptitiously taken footage of an uncle’s foxy young girlfriend) turns into a scary showdown with a border patrol. The only photo shop that develops the amateur format is out of reach in East Beirut.

As apolitical and secular Muslims who haven’t read a word of the Koran, Tarek and Omar can’t quite fathom Omar’s dad’s newfound belief that movies and rock music are the devil’s work. “You mean Paul Anka is in service to Satan?” asks Tarek.

From the protagonists’ apartment block to encounters in the street, most verbal exchanges take the form of “Why converse calmly if you can hurl inventive curses?” Surly outbursts from fat and shrewish neighbor woman Nahida (Liliane Nemry), who’s forever berating her lazy hubby, are especially vivid and entertaining.

When fleeing from the fallout of a street demonstration, Tarek ends up at the legendary brothel of Madame Oum-Walid (Leila Karam). Civilities erode as the war wears on with no end in sight.

Shot on location in a ratio of one-third each hand-held, via Steadicam and tripod-mounted, lensing is spirited and editing keenly paced. Awash in local color, pic radiates vitality and is full of well-observed human touches, many of them laugh-out-loud funny. Bombings and explosions have the ring of truth, and thesps are fine across the board.

Stewart Copeland’s score is delightful. As a side note, the composer and former drummer for The Police lived in Lebanon for 10 years after his dad opened the CIA’s bureau in Beirut.

West Beyrouth

Production: A Tadrart Films release (in France) of a 3B Prods., La Sept/Arte (France)/Douri Films (Lebanon)/Cine Libre (Belgium)/Exposed Film Prods., Bjorn Eivind Aarskog (Norway) co-production. (International sales: FPI/Flach Pyramide Intl., Paris) Produced by Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Brehat. Co-executive producer, Pierre Chevalier. Co-producers, Eliane Dubois, Bjorn Eivind. Directed, written by Ziad Doueiri.

With: Tarek - Rami Doueiri Omar - Mohamad Chamas May - Rola Al Amin With: Carmen Lebbos, Joseph Bou Nassar, Liliane Nemry, Leila Karam, Hassan Frahat, Mahmoud Mabsout, Fadi Abou Khalil. (Arabic and French dialogue)Camera (color, widescreen), Ricardo Jacques Gale; editor, Dominique Marcombe; music, Stewart Copeland; art director, Hamze Nasrallah; costume de-signer, Pierre Matard; sound (DTS stereo), Nicolas Cantin, Thierry Sabatier. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 20, 1998. Running time: 109 MIN.

More Film

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • berlin film festival placeholder berlinale

    Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners: Complete List

    The 69th Berlin Film Festival kicked off on Saturday, with 16 films vying for the Golden and Silver Bears, among them such critically acclaimed entries as Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chinese drama “So Long, My Son” and “By the Grace of God” by François Ozon. Juliette Binoche served as Jury President, with other members of the jury [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. In addition to delivering one of the definitive cinematic portrayals of Hitler, [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content