West Beirut

West Beirut

1998, NR, 105 min. Directed by Ziad Doueiri. Starring Leila Karam, Liliane Nemry, Joseph Bou Nassar, Carmen Lebbos, Rola Al Amin, Mohamad Chamas, Rami Doueiri.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 24, 2000

Among the worst-damaged during wartime are a battle zone's children. Cut loose from school, nurtured by antagonisms, and seasoned by deprivation, these kids come of age under warped and difficult conditions and will no doubt bear the lifelong scars of their interrupted educations and thwarted childhoods. To come of age in Beirut during the recent war-torn decades of maddeningly convoluted civil strife, seems a challenge destined to stymie even the most stabile of teenagers. Thus Ziad Doueiri's 1998 film, West Beirut, comes as a flash of insight, his semi-autobiographical story serving as a window on what it was like to grow up in Beirut during the mid-Seventies. It is also a portrait of the universal condition of teenagehood as well as a street-level portrait of life in Lebanon -- a country that has produced few other film documents in recent years. Like many other first-time film writers and directors, Doueiri focuses his story on the coming of age of a young man not unlike himself. In fact, the movie stars his younger brother in the lead role of Tarek. Tarek and his best pal Omar (Chamas) clown around in school and shoot Super-8 movies in their spare time. Then, in 1975, fighting breaks out and school ceases to exist. Furthermore, the shop that developed their film lies across the border in East Beirut. Gradually, the boys' reckless and self-absorbed adolescence grows into a finer understanding of the ramifications of the madness that surrounds them and their families. A standard teenage love interest becomes complicated because of the girl's Christianity. Bike-riding becomes regulated by the ever-changing lines of the DMZ. Doueiri makes the most of his film's meager resources, shooting in bombed-out streets with nonprofessional teenagers. His experience as an assistant cameraman (From Dusk Till Dawn, and all Tarantino's films) has served him well. The images are clear, direct, and evocative. Part of the universality of his message is that kids will be kids, no matter what hardships they face. West Beirut has its share of teen prurience, hijinks, and bouts with authority figures. Kids, however, can eventually grow up and away; no such laws govern the progression of wars.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Ziad Doueiri Films
The Insult
Lebanon's internecine crises as courtroom drama

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 2, 2018

The Attack
When the wife of an assimilated Arab in Israel is identified a suicide bomber, the unwitting husband questions both his marriage and hiss Palestinian identity.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Aug. 2, 2013

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Empire of Light
The bulb glows dim in Sam Mendes' tribute to picture palaces

Dec. 9, 2022

The Fabelmans
Steven Spielberg presents his own origin story

Nov. 25, 2022


West Beirut, Ziad Doueiri, Leila Karam, Liliane Nemry, Joseph Bou Nassar, Carmen Lebbos, Rola Al Amin, Mohamad Chamas, Rami Doueiri

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle