Under the Bombs



opens: In France: May 14 (Capa Cinema, Starfeld Productions, Art'Mell, Fantascope Prods.)

PARIS -- Philippe Aractingi's "Under the Bombs" ("Sous les Bombes") is an art house movie about an unpopular war featuring actors unknown outside the Islamic world. In an ideal world it would pack them in, but its makers will probably have to make do with a sideboard-full of festival awards. The movie is set against the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon in July 2006. "Under the Bombs" could even be described as an odd-couple road movie.

Zeina (Nada Abou Ferhat), the wife of a wealthy Lebanese businesman based in Dubai, arrives in Beirut, desperate to travel to the south of the country to trace her young son. The only driver she can find is the scruffy Tony (Georges Khabbaz), who happens to be Christian.

As the pair travel through Lebanon's strikingly beautiful but tragic countryside, a bond forms between them despite Zeina's initial suspicions of Tony's motives and his resentment at her snobbish behaviour. Zeina, we learn, is estranged from her husband, and Tony has ghosts of his own, in particular an older brother who collaborated with the Israelis back in the 1980s. He has not seen his brother since.

What makes this movie utterly compelling is the knowledge that many of the war scenes were shot while the Israeli attacks were in progress. Bombs seen exploding in the near distance are real, and coffins disinterred for reburial elsewhere contain real bodies.

Only three actors are professionals. Most of the rest -- Lebanese civilians for the most part, but also foreign journalists and UN peacekeepers -- play parts they were enacting in real life days earlier. Thus, the movie has a rough-hewn, documentary feel, enhanced by the sense of urgency conveyed by both the lead actors and the filmmakers. (During the early part of the shoot, writer Michel Leviant was turning out pages of dialogue to be filmed the same day.)

Franco-Lebanese director Aractingi makes no attempt at even-handedness. The picture is an unabashed portrayal of life at the receiving end of Israeli bombs. But the director's focus is on the common humanity of his characters and there is no sense of political point-scoring. The final twist, when Zeina and Tony reach their destination, is sharp and wrenching.
Cast: Nada Abou Ferhat; Georges Khabbaz; Rawya El Chab; Bshara Atallah.

Director: Philippe Aractingi.
Screenwriters: Michel Leviant, Philippe Aractingi.
Executive Producers: Claude Chelli, Nathalie Leyendecker; Sound: Mouhab Chanesaz.
Producers: Herve Chabalier, Francois Cohen-Seat, Paul Raphael, Philippe Aractingi. Director of photography: Nidal Abdel Khalek.
Music: Rene Aubry, Lazare Boghossian.
Editor: Deena Charara.
Sales: Art'Mell.
No MPAA rating, running time 98 minutes.