Film Movement // 2008 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Tamika Adair (Retired) // June 8th, 2009
Having every reason to stay apart, the aftermath of a war brings them together.
Under the Bombs is a beautiful intimate account of two people who come together in the aftermath of a war. With a taxi driver as her guide, one mother travels across the ravaged countryside of Lebanon in search of her son.
The film takes place in August 2006. For the past 33 days, Lebanon suffered through countless Israeli airstrikes that left 1189 dead and over a million refugees. On the 34th day, the survivors awaken to a ceasefire enacted by the UN and find Lebanon in ruins.
Under the Bombs is a love story between two people from different backgrounds who bond in the aftermath of the Lebanese-Israeli Conflict. An emigrant from Dubai, Zeina is a wealthy Shiite woman back in Lebanon in search of her son, whom she hasn't heard from in a week. She hires Tony, a Christian taxi driver who dreams of leaving, to drive to the South to look for him. Unsure when or if the war will begin again, they begin their dangerous journey, not knowing what they will find along the way.
Shot before and after the 33-day aerial assault and invasion of Lebanon and without an official script, the makers of Under the Bombs provide a vehicle for the audience to see the devastation and hear firsthand from its survivors. Lebanese writer-director Philippe Aractingi only hired two professional actors, Nada Abou Farhat (Zeina) and Georges Khabbaz (Tony), his leads. As two people journey into the desolate and ravaged southern countryside in search of a mother's son, we see with harsh authenticity war and the emptiness it creates. Aractingi weaves news footage into the film and uses non-actors to play themselves (refugees, soldiers, foreign journalists, nuns, Hezbollah supporters, aid workers).
Shot entirely on location in war-torn Lebanon, Under the Bombs doesn't hide the structural or the emotional damage. You're brought into the center of a war zone. The poignant imagery of the excavation of mass graves by bulldozers, the sounds of the reckless thumping of helicopters deploying UN troops to the scenes of disaster, and the rubble and ruin of people's lives haunt you in ways that other films can't. It proves to be more emotional and heart-wrenching without the blood, bodies, and deformed survivors to desensitize you. It's heartbreaking to hear an 11-year-old talk about the two wars he's lived through in his lifetime. He repeats the frightful events of the madness of three days of non-stop bombing and surviving the assault of smoke, dust and debris to survive when some of his friends don't. A veteran of over 40 films, Aractingi expertly avoids using voyeuristic images of the dead, his own personal views or the political agendas of either side to color the realities of the suffering. Despite the news footage, you never see the characters getting political, which is refreshing.
One of the lovely things about this film is that despite their loss, the Lebanese don't grieve much. With the static views of broken highways, wounded bridges and buildings torn to pieces, you wonder how Lebanon finds the will to rebuild when the threat of inevitable destruction lies ahead. "Yes, the hatred keeps growing," says one young Lebanese mother, as she stands in front of a shell of a building that used to be her apartment. The people face death's door, miraculously survive and still hold their heads up high and go on. A woman who owns a gas station that was bombed shares with Zeina and Tony how beautiful her station was when she built it using her son's money. Still hopeful, she says that her son will send her more money to rebuild it.
Class, religion, and gender separate Zeina and Tony in every way. Tony can't hide his immediate attraction to Zeina and he flirts shamelessly. Not amused, Zeina initially sits in the back seat of his Mercedes and rejects Tony's every attempt at friendly conversation. Finally, it's Tony reciting German language tapes in his strong Lebanese accent that breaks the ice and cheers Zeina up. The light mood is short-lived after they reach Zeina's home village, Kherbet Selem and find her family home in ruins.
Torn between mourning and remaining hopeful, Zeina laments for her lost sister and child and screams, "This is not my war." As Zeina distraughtly begs for answers from the locals, they keep telling her to stay strong and don't cry. Stuck in desperate and senseless war, you begin to understand what is lost, especially for those who wanted only peace.
As Zeina grieves for her missing son and sister, Tony grieves also. Surprised by Tony's sudden crying, she later asks him why he cried. Tony reveals that he's never opened up to a woman before and shares his dreams that he fears are lost. In return, she reveals more about her own life, such as her estrangement from her husband and her two miscarriages. Between the two, they create a true intimacy it seems that neither has ever felt before. Pain is not the only emotion they encounter. They share a few light moments, especially as they get closer.
The music is haunting and echoes the hopeful sentiment that lingers under so much pain. The fluctuating strings are achingly beautiful over the bleak landscape of a Lebanon in ruins.
War silences the voices of those who are considered collateral damage by either side. Under the Bombs is dedicated to the many that stayed and were crushed under the bombs. Through the people who witnessed the carnage and we get glimpses of the suffering of the innocents.
The audio quality is crisp and video quality is rich. It only lessens with some of the news and camera footage that is woven throughout.
The special features include biographies of the director, writer and two lead actors, "Stella Artois Presents Race," and a Polish short film called Porn. It's a film about a teenage girl named Wioletta, who is new in the neighborhood. She introduces herself with her private parts to Mirek before giving her name. Whenever they meet alone, she provokes Mirek, who becomes very confused. A love story ensues.
Under the Bombs is a unique experience that will open your eyes to the hope that remains in areas that afflicted by constant war. Although powerful and painful, Under the Bombs is a beauty that must not be missed.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tamika Adair; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Arabic)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film