West Beirut

West Beirut, written and directed by Ziad Doueiri, tells the story of the disintegration of Lebanon from April 13, 1975, through the eyes of high school students who bridged the gap between the Christian and Moslem communities and the parents of one of the students, a Christian mother and a Moslem father. When the film begins, Tarek sings the Lebanese national anthem to the chagrin of his schoolteacher, who has all students at attention, singing the Marsellaise. It seems that Tarek and his Moslem friend Omar commute from their apartments in West Beirut, where a Christian girl May also lives (but survives only by later hiding her cross pendant as the civil war heats up), to attend a French school in East Beirut. The teacher goes on to berate Tarek, tells him to leave class when he deliberately misspells “Monsieur,” and ethnocentrically tells the class that France gave Lebanon its civilization. However, nothing seems to bother always-smiling Tarek, who observes the resurgence of the civil war from the second floor of the school, after which school is shut down. Thereafter, Tarek has words with a foul-mouthed motorist, observes Christians firebombing a demonstration of Moslems, drops a basin of water onto a crazed woman in the neighborhood to stop her verbal rage, helps his uncle when he is attacked by a greedy Moslem so-called protector of his neighborhood, and even visits a brothel located in the neutral zone between the two parts of the city. (The film contains occasional scenes of some of the major violent outbreaks during a civil war that continued until 1990.) The tagline of the film is “Growing up is only half the battle.” Meanwhile, his father calms his mother, who wants to leave Lebanon, by telling her that whatever humiliation she is now suffering would be multiplied manyfold if the family were to become refugees in Western Europe or the United States. The father eloquently reminds her that Lebanon has had internal conflicts many times before but is part of a venerable civilization, one that advanced the arts and science long before Europe, and can only be preserved by remaining. MH