Under the Bombs

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Director: Philippe Aractingi; Release date: 21 March

With her marriage breaking down, Zelna (Nada Abou Farhat) sends her son to stay with her sister in south Lebanon. It is the summer of 2006, and Israel has just unleashed a ferocious 33-day assault on the country. Her son is lost somewhere in the chaos and rubble.

Zelna returns on the day of the ceasefire and hires taxi driver Tony (Georges Khabbaz), a Christian from the south, to help find her son. The frantic search takes the pair into the chaos of post-war Lebanon and a journey into the history of the south.

Tony is forced to confront his own past, and his family's collaboration with the Israeli occupation, while Zelna begins to question her identity, class and privilege.

The bond between the two develops into an intense human drama full of dark humour.

What makes this an exceptional film is the method and conditions under which it was made. Director Philippe Aractingi shot the film entirely on location as the events were unfolding - at funerals, during the search for the dead, at police stations, aid centres and among the refugees.

Aractingi weaves the fictional tale into actual events. And as fiction blurs into reality, raw emotion takes over from acting. The characters melt into real life. This is a risky method of filmmaking, with the danger of intrusion and voyeurism. At times it makes it harrowing and difficult to watch. The honesty of the story drives the plot onto a higher emotional level.

The opening sequence itself is enough to reveal the ferocity of the Israeli war machine. This horror can only be truly expressed by real events. One 20-second shot of panic in a school captures the pure terror of war. As Zelna searches through refugee centres, people come forward to reveal the scale of their loss.

When Aractingi gathered his crew and actors he had no idea how the story would unfold. They snatch moments to film sequences. Zelna's arrival at the port of Beirut was shot while Aractingi was evacuating his family during a brief ceasefire; the hunt for her sister takes her to a Hizbollah funeral at the village of Qana in the days following the ceasefire; a dinner table discussion with pro-Israeli Lebanese reveals the complexity of Lebanese politics - "We must make an alliance with the devil", one of them confesses.

Philippe Aractingi has produced a stunning, honest film that sets a new standard. A powerful anti-war film that captures the mood of a people under extreme emotional stress and it is not surprising that Under the Bombs has won a clutch of awards-probably one of the best films you will see about war and loss.


Socialist Worker will be running an interview with director Phillipe Aractingi this month.