Tuesday 16 August 2022

Movie Review: Under The Bombs (2007)

A post-war drama, Under The Bombs is an intimate story set within a physically and emotionally scarred landscape.

As soon as a ceasefire is announced to end the 34 day war between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, Zeina (Nada Abou Farhat) arrives in Beirut from Dubai via Turkey. She hires taxi driver Tony (Georges Khabbaz) to drive her to the south, where she wants to look for her sister Maha and young son Karim. They were in the family's ancestral village when the war started.

Initially Zeina is cold towards Tony, but as they witness the devastation caused by the war, they start sharing their backgrounds. Zeina had sent Karim to stay with her sister just before the war to spare him from witnessing her crumbling marriage. The Christian Tony is from the south, and suffers from the stigma associated with his brother's prior association with a pro-Israel militia. Now Zeina starts receiving snippets of news about what may have happened to her sister and son, but establishing facts amidst the post-war chaos will be difficult.

A Lebanese production directed and co-written by Philippe Aractingi, Under The Bombs mixes actual footage of grim reality from the 2006 war with a traditional quest to find missing family members. Loss and sorrow hold hands as Aractingi's cameras capture in close-up the scale of damage, abandoning abstract notions to show actual entire villages reduced to rubble and the eradication of a country's basic infrastructure.

Zeina and Tony's car trip provides a front-row seat to this carnage, however the dynamics inside Tony's Mercedes are less impactful. The pair of strangers thrown together by fate start at borderline hostile and over a couple of days progress to almost affectionate, their emotional progress both linear and predictable. Nada Abou Farhat and Georges Khabbaz credibly embrace the material and do what they can with the relatively shallow writing, but the personal revelations involve never-seen third parties - his brother, her husband - and remain at the level of tidbits without resonance. 

The search for Zeina's sister and son makes the usual rounds to hospitals, aid agencies, and governmental offices, every stop harbouring hope but at best providing a clue to the next destination. Along the way, the surviving locals provide hollow-eyed testimony to the horrors of the previous 34 days. As it moves along dangerous roads towards a powerful ending, Under The Bombs refuses to sweep despair away with the fading sounds of war. The bombs may fall silent, but the pain prevails.

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