West Beirut

  • 1998
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

Set against the turmoil of Lebanon's bloody 1975 Civil War, this largely autobiographical coming-of-age drama by writer-director Ziad Doueiri offers a unique look at one Arab family struggling to survive as their world is blown apart. But its loose structure — and Doueiri's even looser handling of an already complicated historical situation —...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Set against the turmoil of Lebanon's bloody 1975 Civil War, this largely autobiographical coming-of-age drama by writer-director Ziad Doueiri offers a unique look at one Arab family struggling to survive as their world is blown apart. But its loose structure

— and Doueiri's even looser handling of an already complicated historical situation — renders everything but the most immediate action nearly incomprehensible to the Western viewer. The film opens on April 13, 1975, as young Tarek (Rami Doueiri) watches from a window and sees a busload

of Palestinians massacred by masked gunmen. It's the start of 18 months of fighting between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, and the beginning of a fierce battle that soon involved Israel, Syria and the PLO. For Tarek, who's Muslim, the violence means no school — more time to flirt with May

(Rola Al Amin), the new Christian girl who's just moved into his building, and to hang out with his best friend Omar (Mohamad Chamas). But as the war drags on and Beirut is split into the Christian East and the Muslim West, reality begins to sink in: To be Lebanese now means nothing, you're either

Christian or Muslim. Takek's mother (Carmen Lebbos) fears for her family's lives and desperately wants to leave, but his idealistic father (Joseph Bou Nassar) refuses to abandon his home. The film follows Tarek over the course of eight years, though you'd never know it: Doueiri uses the same

teenage actors throughout (and they're wonderful, particularly the director's 16-year-old brother Rami), depending on newsreel footage and some vague references to actual events to mark time. You could argue that Doueiri's strategy captures the knotty complexity of Lebanon's recent history. But

for a film that purports to show how the slow and violent death of Beirut shapes the life of its young hero, it's only confusing.

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  • Released: 1998
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Set against the turmoil of Lebanon's bloody 1975 Civil War, this largely autobiographical coming-of-age drama by writer-director Ziad Doueiri offers a unique look at one Arab family struggling to survive as their world is blown apart. But its loose structu… (more)

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