Shot in part during the 2006 summer war between Hezbollah and Israel which devastated Lebanon’s infrastructure and civilian population, the docu-fiction road movie “Under the Bombs” plays like a cri de coeur. Second feature by Lebanese helmer Philippe Aractingi (“Bosta”) combines real footage of the massive destruction with a somewhat forced feeling narrative about a Shiite woman searching for her missing son with the aid of a Christian cab driver. In spite of problems of tone, first look at this subject from the region reps a sought-after fest item, with broadcast and limited arthouse play also likely.
Imperious, upper class Zeina (Nada Abou Farhat), turns up in Beirut at the start of the ceasefire, having traveled in a roundabout way from Dubai. Improbably clad in a chic, cleavage revealing blue dress, she looks for a taxi to take her to the still dangerous south.
The only driver willing to make the trip is Tony (Georges Khabbaz), who comes from the area. Despite Zeina’s frosty disdain for his friendliness, he gets her to reveal her mission. She’s seeking young son Karim who was with her sister in Kherbet Selem, a small village. Ironically, she’d hoped to spare him domestic battles while she and architect hubby ironed out their divorce.
When they arrive at the village, Zeina’s sister’s house is totaled and Karim nowhere to be found. Smitten, sympathetic Tony agrees to stay with her until they locate the boy.
So begins an odyssey that encompasses testimony from various victims of the war, sights of bombed out buildings, highways and bridges, a Hezbollah rally, the arrival of peacekeeping forces, and journalists in action. Shot during the fighting, apparently without a script, these improvised scenes score with their emotional authenticity.
Less successful are scripted fictional sequences of Zeina and Tony bonding. Two interludes at a hotel are especially awkward:The first when Tony has surprisingly graphic sex with a receptionist (Rawya El Chab), and the second when he performs what comes off as a silly mating dance for Zeina.
The different thesping styles of the two leads (she, high melodrama; he, low comedy) don’t mesh well at first, but reach a more even keel by the poignant end.
Tech credits, which include news footage, are a mixed bag.