The film was nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign film category and it does not disappoint. A Lebanese film about a conflict between a Lebanese Christian, Tony Hanna, and a Palestinian refugee worker, Yasser Abdallah Salameh. Tony is a devout member of the Lebanese Forces and devotee of the assassinated president, Bashir Gemayel. He replays the late president’s speeches, which were given at the height of the Lebanese civil war, not only in his workshop, but in his heart and mind. A conflict emerges when Tony refuses to allow Yasser and his contractors to fix a pipe which has been illegally installed and is dripping onto the footpath. This climaxes into a series of taunts and a final insult which escalates into the courts.
What unravels before us in the courtroom is the past. Not only the past of Yasser and Tony, but also the past of the lawyers representing them and the entire Lebanese nation and the Palestinian plight. A past which by all accounts we are told was over when the Lebanese civil war ended. This is a powerful reminder that all of us are in some way shaped by our past, even those not yet born. As has been the case in Lebanon and other places, victims of war have been told not to speak of the past, rather look to the future and forget. That approach has difficult consequences.
The film explores how historical narratives can be hijacked. The real footage of the slaughter in the Damour is heart wrenching to watch. One of our mothers who was watching with us told us she had never seen it before. It has been forgotten by some narratives of history, but not by those who lived it. There is also an exploration of the Lebanese generation clash, between a generation who lived the war and a generation newly emerging who wants better than what their parents had but are unable to understand or deal with the why their parents are the way they are.
As Christians, there is an added dimension to this movie. At one-point Tony Hanna spits out:
“I am not Jesus Christ to turn the other cheek for him!”
Around Tony’s home, in his garage and in his car are religious icons and statues. He wears his Christianity overtly and staunchly. Yet the thing that would truly demonstrate his Christianity evades him. To be Christ. As the movie unravels we begin to see why he struggles to be Christ. His unresolved anger and the events of his life are silently tormenting him and those around him which he loves most. There are glimpses in the movie which offer hope. It is the hope which we Christian’s believe in. Regardless of whether we choose to live it, we are all made in God’s image and even the most broken and angry of us can find compassion and be touched by God’s love.
This film spoke to us in so many ways. For those of you who are Lebanese you will see people you know in life in the characters. The film will speak to you, even if you are not Lebanese. It is in the end a film about the brokenness of humanity. We very much encourage you to see it. The cinematography is amazing and the real-life footage of the Lebanese civil war is confronting. As one of our friends said, “the Lebanese are the masters of doing something amazing with very little.” One criticism would be the English subtitles. While we understand the limitations of space (especially in a film with this much dialogue), this is certainly one place all the Lebanese movies must improve.
Theresa Simon with contributions from Christina Maksisi.