Original review featured on The Doha Film Institute website.
In 1975, when the war in Lebanon broke out, Beirut got divided into a Muslim West and a Christian East. This film reflects the point of view of a group of teenagers from West Beirut amidst the beginning of a civil war.
From the balcony of his school, Tarek (Rami Doueiri) witnessed the massacre of 31 people in a bus. Following this incident, Tarek and his best friend Omar (Mohamad Chamas) team up with their new Christian neighbour May (Rola Al Amin) to explore their new reality through surrounding events. The schools are shut because of the war: the same war that has brought them excitement, new possibilities and above all, a lot of spare time for some fun and mischief. Meanwhile, tension is rising between Tarek’s parents; his father is being obstinate about staying in an unstable Lebanon, while his terrified mother is eager to leave the country. But as with any war, tragedy is unavoidable.
The Director, Ziad Doueiri, used the title of the film in both French and English. This is obviously an undertone of the cross-cultural, tri-lingual society that Lebanon represents. But it doesn’t stop with the title – it continues into the beginning of the film, when troublemaker Tarek sings the Lebanese anthem through a megaphone while his peers are forced to sing the French national anthem, “la Marseillaise”, prior to attending class. It is a statement about the Lebanese identity crisis, which gets clearer through a dialogue between Tarek and his angry teacher, who tells him – in French – that his behaviour is disrespectful to the country that has brought him peace and civilisation. Tarek continues to show a lucid anger towards France when he refuses to travel there for a summer camp offered by his father, saying: “I am in France every day!”
The film is a semi-autobiography evolving around a loving family with a serious concern about survival. The father, Riad (Joseph Bu Nassar) doesn’t want to admit the threats the country is drowning in. He is trying to convince his family that things will soon settle, as is always the case in Lebanon. As he notices the soldiers spreading, however, the affirmation of worrying circumstances is unavoidable. The mother (Carmen Lebbos) sees fleeing as a vital solution, as she is anxious about the fate of the family.
Tarek is not worried about these grown up details. He wants to enjoy the closing of the school. To his luck, the beautiful May has just moved into their building. The normal peer strain takes place, as Omar displeases this new intruder. Soon, however, tensions are dismantled and a wonderful trio is formed, ready for their adventures in Beirut.
Doueiri manages to accurately portray meticulous details that could only be described by someone who lived the mood of civil war in west Beirut. Life was as he witnessed it; surviving through the warmth of the people, regardless of the militias roaming the streets with their artilleries.