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Sunday, May 25, 2008 

Under the Bombs

This is a concept film. It's experimental.

The experiment grates, and gets in the way every time it rears its head. But surprisingly, that doesn't stop this being a memorable film, with a simple, well told story.

Under the Bombs (تحت القصف) is set in the aftermath July war between Lebanon and Israel in 2006. We start at the Beirut Port, where Zeina has just arrived on the day of the ceasefire. She walks into Charles Helou bus station and searches for a taxi driver who will take her south. No-one is willing to take the risk, until Tony reluctantly agrees, for a handful of dollars.

The reason she needs to go south is to find her son, who is spending the summer away from his home in the Gulf, to visit the homeland.

So, it's a simple war-story. But what makes this film different is that it's unscripted, and like Caramel - it uses non-actors throughout (except for Zeina, Tony and two others). But it takes the concept one stage further. Almost all of the people we meet in the film are in their natural setting.

Tony is a true southerner. He takes Zeina from village to village, where she walks around asking for information from real-life locals. Tony waits for her, and sometimes, goes off to meet old friends - and, yes, they're Real People too. Some of these old friends have had their houses destroyed - "I used to live in that bedroom", one woman says, pointing up at a skeleton of a building. These side-trips feel out of place, they don't fit with the story, and they are - literally - documentary scenes slotted into a fiction film. It's weird, and it doesn't work.

Putting fiction so crudely into a very real tragedy seems like an odd concept. I didn't expect to be able to sympathise with Zeina's plight. But I did.

Perversely, Tony's character is developed better than Zeina's. A sub-story develops beautifully through the film. And it was one which kept me hanging on every word he said.

Tony's brother was a fighter in the South Lebanon Army - a Christian militia, and an Israeli proxy. The brother, and his children, fled to Israel when the Israeli Occupation ended eight years ago. And that has caused all manner of problems for Tony, who has been left behind.

So although the Real Life bits make this film look like a crude 'Israel is bad' film - it ends up being far more multi-layered.

Sounds interesting if somewhat depressing. It's out in England you say? I'll keep an eye out

Yes it is, although it's getting patchy coverage. Obviously not as widely shown as Caramel. But it's worth seeing.

Going through your blog always makes me feel longing and nostalgia for Damascus! It's been three years since I was there and I really miss it- somehow I don't think it would be the same second time round tho!

That's so funny - at exactly the same time you say you miss Damascus on my blog - and I say I miss Egypt on your blog!!

No, you know what Sham is like, it envelops you and takes you back in as if you never left. A lot of my friends left, and I was worried things would be so different. But it wasn't.

Hehehe...that is quite a coeincidnce! But I think it would be hard...when you went back did you have something to keep you occupied- work, study? That's kinds what worries me, being back in Syria without knowing many people and having nothing to do- stupidly I managed to cover all the touristy things already so I'd be a little stuck. I'd love to head there this summer or something.
How come you went back a month ago? If you don't mind my asking...

Just seeing what's changed will take up some time. Even though you think you'll be lonely, you'll meet people you'd completely forgotten about. Me - no, I was just on holiday. I didn't intend to spend so much time in Sham but it just kept me there like a magnet.

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  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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