3 September 1999 | SKG-2
The other side of war
Having lived in North America my entire life, and only seeing the rest of the world through movies, books, and TV, I confess I have no experience of what the world is like when your home is a battlefield, especially in places like the Balkans and the Middle East, which have been sources of strife for several centuries. For many, of course, it's a source of tragedy. But what about those who may live on the edge of conflict, but aren't directly involved? For those who the challenge is simply to fit your day to day life around the war? HOPE AND GLORY was a film like that, though it was also about a little boy who could of course only see school was out, and WEST BEIRUT is like that as well; in fact, it retains the child-like view of HOPE AND GLORY but balances it with the adult viewpoint.
Writer-director Ziad Doueiri isn't interested in making a tract about the Lebanese Civil War(though he doesn't slight from its horrors, as in its opening scene of the bus massacre), but rather picking up the details of everyday life there. If there's a message, and Doueiri refreshingly doesn't hammer us over the head with one, it seems to be this; you do what you can. That's the attitude of the father of the main character Tarak; when both his wife and his son want to leave, he reminds them they really have no place else to go, these things have happened before, but they will stop, and life will go on. You can even find humor in your existence(as when Tarak escapes a battle by hiding in a car, which then takes him to what he thinks is a group of guerrillas but turns out to be something else entirely).
Doueiri, who was the second-unit cameraman on every film Quentin Tarantino directed, not only shows his visual flair, but also tells a compelling story, although with a few slow spots, and while the main characters are teens coming of age, we see the adult point of view as well; sometimes it's mocked(when Tarak's friend Omar complains his father thinks all Western culture is the devil's work, Tarak replies, puzzled, "How does Paul Anka come from Satan?"), but mostly it's taken seriously, and that, I think, helps make this a good film. Doueiri and his brother Rami(who plays Tarak) are ones to watch.