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 (??? ?????) 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.
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.
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.