West Beirut

West Beirut


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

As a first feature, this has conviction to burn. Semi-autobiographical, Ziad Doueiri's film chronicles the beginning of the war of partition between Christians and Muslims that left the city of Beirut in ruins. It is April, 1975, and Tarek is causing disruption at the French High School again. The authoritarian head mistress tells him: "Your insolence has no limit." Outside, in the street, masked men hold up a bus and murder its occupants.

Whatever is happening, Tarek and his friend, Omar, know that things will never be the same. School's closed. Tarek's mother, a lawyer, cannot work. Neither can his father. There is talk of Israelis attacking Palestinians. Certainly, the streets are controlled by armed gangs. The city has been cut in half, the Christians to the East, the Muslims to the West. Religion takes on a new and vital importance. Tarek's neighbour, May, is persuaded to hide the crucifix she wears. In West Beirut, it could have them all killed.

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Insecurity and danger is part of the adventure that has become their lives. Food's running short, the usual teenage activities - thinking about sex, listening to American pop music ("Is Paul Anka the work of Satan?"), cruising the markets - have been curtailed to some degree and the camera shop that processed Omar's Super 8 films is out of bounds.

Shot in a documentary style, Doueiri achieves a rare feel for the excitement and uncertainty that civil war imposes. The boys, Rami Doueiri and Mohamed Chames, are excellent. West Beirut is exactly how it should be, full of colour, chaos and character.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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West Beirut packshot
Teenagers' eye view of the war of partition in Beirut.
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Director: Ziad Doueiri

Writer: Ziad Doueiri

Starring: Rola Al Amin, Joseph Bou Nassar, Mohamad Chamas, Rami Doueiri, Lela Karam, Carmen Lebbos, Lialiane Nemri

Year: 1998

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada


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