Winner of 1998 Prix François Chalais at Cannes film festival and recognised at many other international festivals, this is a factual take on the war in Lebanon serenading as a brilliant movie.

Adolescence is a period of life difficult to capture on screen. It either ends up being too musical and makes no sense or hits too hard to be called art in any way or form. The movies which have captured this period of life naturally and creatively have attained cult status. Though this movie goes on to talk a lot about the conflict in middle east from Lebanon’s perspective, I would like to think that the teenager’s point of view is the differentiator.

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The 1975 war in Lebanon starts off like any other in the past and everyone thinks that things would get back to normal in few weeks or months. Three teenagers who suddenly find not going to school a relief, start out to document the events on a Super 8 camera. Slowly they find out that the country has turned into something they have never seen before. Their entire community metamorphoses right in front of their eyes.

The conflict is sounded off first against the curfew that is everywhere. Secondly it turns neighbors against each other. Family members start to question one another and friends get sucked in too without much choice.

The conversation between Tarek’s parents is a beautiful yet painful portrayal of how the general population which has done nothing wrong, is made to suffer for being born into a land of conflict. When they go through their options, one feels pity for them.

The vibe from the three teenagers felt very familiar. And then I realized that it was the Mexican movie ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ which came out in 2002. Alfonso Cuaron would definitely have taken inspiration from ‘West Beirut’ to come up with the coming of age and a more erotic version from his country.

I notice a lot of shouting involved between neighbors, friends, family and shopkeepers. I would like to consider it as part of the culture. Though it never plays down any part of the proceedings, it lingers as one of the vivid memories.

Tarek played by Rami Doueiri, Omar played by Mohamad Chamas and May played by Rola Al Amin have been instrumental in bringing out the clutter free adolescent lens for us to look into what happened. Tarek had the charm and optimism which never goes out of fashion.

Shockingly convenient division of a country between two religions, just keeps staring right at you. History needs to be documented in detail through art so that the future generations can learn from mistakes of the past. The world that we live in now does not seem to care about the past mistakes, as history just like science has ended up being a matter of perspective. Facts have little if any purpose, but this movie has more than purpose and a rightful cult following.


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