West Beirut



Writer-director Ziad Doueiri’s first feature has the appealing premise of following two young boys as they try to forge a normal life in the dangerous environment of war-torn Beirut. Told largely in the loose style of strung-together anecdotes, the story has an improvisational feel which, while initially engaging, eventually becomes a bit too meandering.

The boys are Tarek (Rami Doueiri) and Omar (Mohamad Chamas) and the year is 1975, when the conflicts between the Muslims and the Christians literally divided the city. One of the conceits of the film – assuming that it’s intentional – is that the reasons behind the partitioning of Beirut into religious sectors are never made clear, apparently a reflection of the fact that our two protagonists really don’t care.

What they care about mainly is that the conflict has indefinitely closed their school and that they’re free to roam the streets making Super 8 films and interacting with their colorful neighbors (the humor in the film is distressingly broad). The war only really begins to hit home when the two realize that the sole place where they can get their film developed is in the Christian sector.

The film takes a more serious turn toward the end, but not very effectively. It’s all well-done but disappointing, as what begins as a sort of Middle Eastern homage to the French New Wave devolves into the familiar deep sighing of traditional humanist cinema.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.