West Beirut

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West Beirut

For a child growing up in wartime, the threat of danger isn't nearly as imposing as it might be for older generations that remember what everyday life was like without it. First-time director Ziad Doueiri, a former camera operator on Quentin Tarantino films, was raised during the Lebanese War, and his impressive autobiographical memoir West Beirut confesses to a mostly happy childhood. As in John Boorman's similarly themed WWII comedy Hope And Glory, the kids are on permanent recess from school, and the bedlam caused by daily bombing runs frees them to treat the city like a giant playground. Doueiri's younger brother Rami plays his alter ego, a rebellious middle-class teenager obsessed with his Super 8 camera. With Beirut torn down the middle—Muslim militias control the west, Christians the east—Rami and his friends roam the streets and hollowed-out buildings together, capturing great footage of aerial dogfights, masked gunmen, and flares lighting up the night sky. But the realities of war, not to mention some coming-of-age awkwardness, eventually take their toll. More an episodic slice-of-life than a conventional narrative, West Beirut suffers from inadequate sketchwork at times, particularly when it delves into the adult world of Rami's parents and a bordello in the neutral zone. But Doueiri's liberated shooting style works beautifully when he follows the kids' random impulses, covering terrain he clearly knows well. Authentic and flavorful in its minor details, West Beirut stands as a testament to the joys of filmmaking.