The opening and a montage from Sous les bombes
Dear friends and readers,
If there is anyone who reads this blog who thinks that dropping bombs on the people of Syria is a good way to punish Assad for using out-of-bounds chemical warfare, pray watch this film. It opens with an intertitle about the bombing of Lebanon and then we are on the ground under the bombs with the people. Remember Assad is not going to be bombed — except insofar as a bomb might hit one of his probably super-safe houses; the people of his country are. We watch the bombs explode and it’s terrifying; we see house blown to bits, huge clouds, fireballs, and then the camera cuts to the streets a few days after the devastation has been cleared a bit. Bare outlines of structures, furniture flung and destroyed every which way, cement, rubble, dangerous wires, ruins. The film is shot entirely on location and blended into the fictional typifying story: funerals, aid centers, the streets where commerce goes on, schools, deserts, private houses. The ferocity of a war machine is before you. Dramas of raw stress, loss.
The story & context and mood: A woman, Zelan (Nada Abou Farhat) searches for her sister (dead in one bombing) and her son who was sent to stay with the sister in southern Lebanon — with the help of a cabdriver Tony (Georges Khabbaz) whose brother is exiled in Germany and who appears at first to be acting simply to make money. A bonding between the two emerges over the course of the movie. Context: it is the summer of 2006, and Israel has just unleashed a ferocious 33-day assault on the country. The search takes the pair through the chaos, differing groups of people, kinds of behavior found in a just post-war dangerous landscape, and a history of the south. The mood is not didactic or preach-y: the two stay in a hotel at one point and he has sex with the receptionist; she gradually reveals her upper class privileged background has fallen apart as her husband remains in a center of power, has mistresses. He reveals the political history of his family as Christians, talks of his two sons and wife. This family had thought Israel would help against Muslim fanaticism. They were quickly disabused of such ideas. There’s a curious feel as across the film the woman moves from a sexy western dress to a lightweight scarf on her head and more traditional wrap-around light robe; and as the man moves from irritated driver to complex human being, who can dance traditional dances with glee, who loves his 1975 car as his basis of living — he has to give it up in a desert as it’s a target for cluster bombs. They learn to sympathize with one another.
We see what life is like in places like Iraq, Iran, Syria — the west bank of Israel. As the tall white guys loaded with heavy armory flood the areas now and again, you understand how they are (rightly) seen as the actors of a remorseless set of events indifferent to the fate of the average person on the ground, under the bombs.
One article calls the film powerful protest art and suggest why such art fails partly in terms of the film itself to obtain its object. To stop these wars you have to stop the powerful people in whose individual interest (often not clear to outsiders) these wars are set on foot: arms manufacturers, people who own land and mine it for natural resources, merchants; such a person might not sit through this film (would a slave-owner have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin?); if he or she did, it’s easy to suggest it’s an exaggeration for dramatic effect. This film operates against this trivialization, and is one of a movement of such films about the Middle East. I realize to do real justice say to Obama and those pushing for war we need a Machivelli to do the subtle allegoresis which might explicate how they act and why.
This film’s more than an anti-war film; it’s about the hard maimed lives all around the war that continues after the ceasefires are sounded. For them the war is not over when it’s declared over. It’s a feminist or female-centered vision, women’s and we see how Hezbollah, the resistance movement within Lebanon, ignores the voice of and impact on women and children of their desperate behavior.
A must-see. I wish I could screen it in the next place Obama goes with his war-mongers as background to their hypocritical rhetoric. I say hypocritical for many reasons: the US has used chemical warfare many times, from Agent Orange in Vietnam, to supporting Saddam against the Kurds, to recently blowing Fallujah up with toxic uranium. See Alan Grayson, Florida House Member, on all the things the US gov’t should be spending its money on.