'1982': Film Review | TIFF 2019

Courtesy of TIFF
Beirut, from a great distance.

Nadine Labaki, director of the Oscar-nominated drama 'Capernaum,' appears in Oualid Mouaness' oblique look at the start of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, set in a posh Beirut private school.

The transformation of an ordinary day into an extraordinary one unfortunately doesn't register with much heightened drama in 1982, an oblique look at the start of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June of the eponymous year. The subject matter and the presence of local luminary Nadine Labaki (director of the Oscar-nominated film Capernaum) lend the pic an automatic profile, but on a minute-to-minute basis it's mundane and cinematically ordinary.

Given the school setting teeming with prepubescent kids chomping at the bit to get their year-end final exams over with so they can run free for the summer, it's easy to compare this to films by, say, Francois Truffaut and find this one significantly wanting. Still, this place is rather different, in that it's a posh Christian school for privileged children in the suburbs, so their behavior is scarcely disruptive.

What does percolate beneath the surface, however, is the anxiety of 11-year-old Wissam (Mohammad Dali — great name), who's preoccupied by his determination this day to tell a rather more mature and composed classmate, Joana (Gia Madi), that he loves her; when Wissam obsessively practices saying, "Joana, I love you. Joana, I love you," it's impossible not to think of a youthful Jean-Pierre Leaud in a Truffaut film doing the same.

Routine matters constantly block Wissam from following through on his anxiety-ridden mission, which in due course make the film feel routine and scarcely compelling at all. Other than the setting, there's nothing special about the events of this day, and the casually observing, non-dynamic direction by Oualid Mouasaness lends the events no special interest, much less urgency, for three-quarters of an hour.

No doubt this is part of the writer-director's strategy, to lull the viewer into the same relaxed complacency felt by the characters, who live at a significant remove from the intensity commonly associated with Beirut. At length, the sound of military vehicles nearby creates a bit of stir, and there are reports of people beginning to flee South Beirut. Jets start flying overhead, the sound of explosions becomes more frequent and the idea that whatever is happening will remain at a considerable distance begins to fade.

Oddly, though, there's little corresponding increase in viewer tension or interest. The teachers (played by Labaki and Rodrigue Sleiman) want to assume that the school is in no danger, and so they push to make the students stay put and complete their exams. Eventually, some parents show up to try to get their kids out of what they perceive to be harm's way and things become a bit chaotic. 

But the pic builds no significant sense of peril even as the bombing becomes closer and more frequent; all it does, really, is to serve notice as to what we know is coming, as well as to spotlight a privileged lifestyle that one infers will not last long in such a setting. 

1982 does not set out to be nostalgic for this particular lifestyle or class of people at a certain historical moment. But nor does it establish any other framework through which one might care to examine and consider the distinctly Europeanized Middle Eastern experience on display. Perhaps if it had assumed the point of view of one character, such as a longtime teacher at the school, the film might have been invested with some weight and insight. Instead, it just sort of sits there onscreen, provoking no special reaction one way or the other.

Production companies: Tricycle Logic, Abbout Productions, Mad Dog Films
Cast: Nadine Labaki, Mohammad Dali, Ghassan Maalouf, Aliya Khalidi, Rodrigue Sleiman, Gia Madi, Lilia Harkous, Saeed Serhan, Zeina Demelero
Director-screenwriter: Oualid Mouaness
Producers: Oualid Mouaness, Georges Schoucair, Myriam Sassine, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Christopher Tricario
Director of photography: Brian Rigney Hubbard
Production designer: Cesar Hayek
Music: Nadim Mishlawi
Editor: Jad Dani Ali Hassan
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Discovery)

Sales: WaZabi Films

100 minutes