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Zeina’s son is lost and that’s the only thing that matters-- not war-torn Lebanon, not the wake of rubble, collapsed buildings and homes, dead bodies or the endless amount of soldiers that stand in her way during the 2006 cease-fire in the Lebanon-Israel conflict.
No, none of this matters because nothing is more important to a mother than the welfare of her child. Her young son is missing, possibly dead, possibly wandering alone, or possibly having been—as some strangers reveal—taken under the wing of French journalists who wanted to protect him.
And even though Zeina knows that the journey is perilous, the odds are great, and she has an entire region to search-- it makes no difference since a boy is lost and his mother is coming to get him.
Arriving in Beirut from Dubai with the bare minimum of luggage wherein everything seems to be inconsequential other than means of payment and a cell phone-- Zeina (a phenomenal Nadu Abou Farhat in her award-winning role) begs all nearby taxi drivers to take her into the still unstable south region.
Although she’s warned it’s far too dangerous and that no one on Earth would take her there, she does find a ride in the form of Tony (George Khabbaz), who lowers a lofty fee for the risk because of her pretty eyes. However, the compliment bounces off the preoccupied, single-minded and fiercely determined Zeina instantly and the two begin traveling right into the heart of darkness of the war.
While the aftermath of the Lebanon-Israel conflict is never far from mind as the two character begin to bond tentatively despite their difference in religion and background (as Zeina is a Shiite and Tony a Christian) and they encounter numerous refugees, journalists, soldiers, and passersby—at its heart and much to director Philippe Aractingi’s credit, it’s never an outright war movie. No, in the place of that genre, he's made subtle humanistic and moral work with the thesis that any war that leaves so much human devastation on both sides can never be referred to as something that has been won or lost.
In the words of the Beirut-born and raised Franco-Lebanese filmmaker Philippe Aractingi, the film—which began as his “reaction to the war,” by refusing to succumb “to despair” and instead sublimate his “hatred and anger into something creative,” soon began to evolve into a work that was “no longer about the war itself, but it’s impact on the lives of ordinary people.”
Hiring only two professional leads in the form of Farhat and Khabbaz, Michel Leviant’s scripted work soon incorporated a great deal of improvising as the cast and crew—filming right underneath the bombs during the ceasefire itself—became firsthand witnesses “to the war” by staring deeply into the eyes of real human beings “who were dying and those whose lives were being changed,” in its decision “to focus on those who suffer so directly from the war.”
The result is an emotionally charged docudrama as well as a vital historical document of a specific time and place which became the recipient of six awards including ones at the Venice and Jerusalem Film Festival as well as becoming an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival.
Shot on high-definition that blends together scenes of extraordinary beauty of the landscape juxtaposed next to the most horrific of tragedies seemingly to illustrate the side-by-side before and after of the conflict—the work which was a French, Lebanese, and UK co-production—has just been released to own here as a Region 1 DVD for American audiences with its 16x9 aspect ratio and English subtitles to translate the Arabaic dialogue intact.
Emotionally draining but extremely potent and highly recommended, Under the Bombs is one of the strongest purely dramatic releases from the Film Movement catalog and an urgent reminder of the true human collateral damage of war in not just the bodies left behind dead but the ones alive, whether they’re lost, found, or in the form of a mother arriving from another country desperate to find her son no matter what it takes.