Ziad Doueiri's assured debut is a lively coming of age tale, a technically polished, frequently funny and emotionally affecling work which was also a Toronto Film Festival award winner. April 13 1975, the first oflicial day of Ihe Lebanese Civil War: the passengers of a Palestinian bus are massacred by masked gunmen in front of two teenagers, Tarek and Omar. The boys live in West Beirut, the Muslim section of Ihe city: Christians control East Beirut and this geographical division is a symbol of a country and people now torn apart.
Tarek and Omar attempt to ignore the tragedy unfolding about them in their pursuit of fun. Together with May, a young Christian girl from their neighbourhood, they roam Ihe city's streets looking for adventure, capturing their travels wilh a Super 8 home movie camera. For a year the battleground is their playground in spite of the escalating violence that surrounds them.
Awash in local colour, West Beyrouth radiates vitality and is full of well-observed human touches, some utterly hilarious. Moreover the film emphasises the human ability (especially the resilience and adaptability of children) to cope with even the most abhorrent situations. Extraordinary personal strength and courage summount almost impossible odds.
The cast turn in admirable, natural performances considering their youth and origins—Tarek (Rami Doueiri) is played by the director's own kid brother, Omar (Mohamad Chamas) was cast from an orphanage. Former Police drummer Stewart Copeland, who lived in Lebanon for a decade, provides the lively score. West Beyrouth is an encouraging debut and a picaresque account of an adolescence hijacked by war.