Sunday 11 October 2009

Film Review: We Loved Each Other So Much (2003)

The Lebanese Civil War erupted in 1975, and lasted for 15 years. Approximately 200,000 lives were lost in the conflict, which pitted the Lebanese against each other with a large dose of foreign intervention.

When the conflict ended, deep societal scars took hold, and exist until today.

In 2003, about 13 years after most of the shooting stopped, Dutch Director Jack Janssen took his documentary cameras to Lebanon and conducted interviews with Lebanese survivors of the war. In We Loved Each Other So Much, he captures a vivid cross-section of society: former fighters who were on opposite sides of the front lines; civilians who were caught in the cross-fire; members of the country's cultural community; an Armenian photographer; and two generations of Palestinian refugees.

The common thread that the film captures is the music of the Lebanese diva Fairuz. A brilliant singer with searing emotion in her voice, and famous throughout the Arab word before, during and after the Civil War, Fairuz did not leave Lebanon during the war, nor did she ever take sides; she simply survived the conflict along with her fellow civilians, and kept recording and performing whenever she could.

She became a symbol of hope and endurance -- ironically, for all sides of the conflict.

As the country disintegrated and Lebanon made the journey from the Switzerland of the Middle East to the world's most notorious hell hole, lives were destroyed, massacres were unleashed, buildings collapsed, society tore itself apart...and the music of Fairuz played on, often lamenting the misery unfolding around it or providing a diversion from it.

Janssen's cameras capture the full emotions of the war that the music of Fairuz unlocks in the Lebanese survivors. The interviewees gradually reveal themselves to be a range of victims and survivors, all with tender emotional wounds just below the surface. Many suffered personal losses and direct encounters with death. One former fighter sees little hope and lives in despair. Others have patched up their lives and carry on with hope for the future but a wary eye on the past. The songs of Fairuz bring back memories of life's milestones, often wrapped in the pain and suffering of a savage conflict.

We Loved Each Other So Much is a well-crafted testimony to the raw emotional power of music, and to the talent of Fairuz. It is also a stark and tragic human recounting of the consequences of war, and while the film focuses on Lebanon, similar wasteful tragedies unfold daily around the world.

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