West Beyrouth (West Beirut) (1998)




Director:  Ziad Doueiri.

Starring:  Rami Doueiri (Tarek), Mohamad Chamas (Omar), Rola Al Amin (May), Carmen Lebbos (Hala, Tarek's mother), Joseph Bou Nassar (Riad, Tarek' father), Lialiane Nemri (Neighbor), LeVla Karam (Brothel Madam), Hassan Farhat (Roadblock Militiaman), Mahmoud Mabsout (Baker), Fadi Abou Khalil (Bakery Militiaman).

adolescents caught in war-torn Beirut, Lebanon in 1975


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Tarek does not care for his school, the French High School of Beirut.  He gets into  trouble when he disturbs the singing of the French national anthem.  His teacher accuses him of insulting France, the nation who "created your country" and gave them their civilization.  She tells him to get out. 

April 13, 1975.  While he is standing on a balcony watching the street, he sees a number of Christian militiamen stop a Palestinian bus, surround it and open fire on the passengers.  The arms fire brings out the students to see what is going on and they all see the massacre.  Tarek's mother rushes in her car to the school and picks up her son and his good friend Omar. 

His father talks about 1963 when he and his wife were young and in college.  They had a student demonstration that almost brought down the government.  At dinner there is gunfire and flares drop from the sky.  All school is canceled. 

Tarek sees a girl in his neighborhood who he thinks is very pretty.  Gunmen in a pick-up truck pass their car.  On the radio is the news that 31 people died in the bus massacre.  The Christian militia leader Gemayel blames Israel.  More gunmen appear.  Their car is stopped and a guard asks for the father's I.D.  He tells them that they must turn around because the Christians are not letting anyone through to the other side of the city.

At Omar's house the boys film the sexy girlfriend of Omar's uncle.  They smoke and listen to American music. 

Tarek's mother, Hala,  is very upset about all the violence in Lebanon.  Her husband reminds her that there was talk of civil war in Lebanon in 1958, 1964 and 1973.  He asks her not to worry so much.  While the family sleeps, there is gunfire and then an explosion that shatters their windows.  All the people in the apartment building run downstairs to take shelter in the basement. A neighbor is shot in the street and someone brings him into the basement for first aid. 

Hala wants to leave Beirut to go with her son into the mountains.  Her husband does not want to leave.  As she drives away from her apartment building she rams into another car on the road.  Her husband rushes out to help her. 

Tarek sees the girl again and he asks her to accompany him and his friend Omar.  He learns that her name is May and she is a Christian (which is hard to miss since she wears a cross around her neck).  His schoolmate Azouri sees Tarek with the Christian girl and calls him a traitor.  When they team up with Omar he is upset to see the cross around May's neck and he won't shake her hand when she offers it.  Tarek gives May a ride on the back of his bike and they ride with Omar in order to get to the camera shop where they can get their film developed.  But the camera shop is on the other side of the border, on the Christian side in Zeytoni.  The Muslim guards will not permit Tarek to cross over the border for fear of his getting shot by a sniper.  The guards put a little scare into the three young people and they make a quick exit from the place.  Omar calls May "Virgin Mary."  He tells Tarek that his father and mother are becoming more conservative.  His mother is now wearing a veil and his father has forbidden cinema and rock 'n roll. 

There is still a great deal of fighting.  Hala, who is a lawyer, returns to their house and tells her husband and son that the Court House is closed.  Tarek and Omar take part in a demonstration over the leader Kamal even though they have no idea who the man is.  Omar films the demonstration.  Suddenly a man in front of the march throws a Molotov cocktail at the demonstrators and then gunmen open fire on them.  In order to get away from the gunfire, Tarek gets into the back seat of a car.  While he is still in the car, a man gets in and drives to Zeytoni and puts his car in a garage.  After the man leaves, Tarek gets out and tries to find an exit out of the place.  He runs into a woman who forces him into a large living room. He now finds himself in a brothel run by Oum Walid, who services both Muslim and Christian clients.  Tarek likes the experience and dances with the pretty Rosie.  Salim, the driver, drives Tarek home.  The snipers do not shoot at the car because Salim displays a bra hanging from his antennae.  This is the sign that he is from the brothel and neither side fires on him.  Tarek then tells Omar about his adventure. 

Tarek wants to go back to the brothel.  Omar doesn't want him to go for fear that Tarek will be killed by a sniper.  But Tarek borrows May's bra, holds it up and walks calmly to the brothel.  May and Omar chase after him.  Oum Walid is not happy to see Tarek this time.  She says she has been having troubles.  One of her girls had sex with men of two different faiths and men disturbed by this took it out on Rosie. Salim drives the three friends home. 

Tarek is uncharacteristically sad following the visit to the brothel.  He thought there was hope for Beirut, but after hearing of the religious problems affecting the brothel, his hopes have been deflated considerably.  Tarek is also a bit sad because, as he tells Omar, he has no money, they have to eat sardines three times a week and his father does not have a job.  He is also afraid that he might lose his parents to all the violence.  He now even says he actually misses schools.  Omar gives Tarek a big hug. 

The Israelis come into Lebanon.  Tarek's father says there are 100,000 dead and yet the game continues.  The Syrians are involved in Lebanon as well as the Israelis and then the American soldiers arrive.  But life in Lebanon goes on as Tarek films his mother frolicking on the beach. 


Good movie.  The adventures of Tarek, Omar and May illustrate the terrible toll experienced by the Lebanese in the near constant violence afflicting their nation.  West Beirut is separated from East Beirut because of the divisions between the Christians and the Muslims.  In addition, other nations get involved with the internal affairs in Lebanon: Israel, Syria, PLO and the United States.  The constant divisions and violence have a big impact on the finances of the Lebanese families and takes a terrible psychological toll as well, including fear, worry and depression. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

Historical Background:

1960s  --  Muslims and secular left wing groups increasingly criticizes the constitutionally guaranteed Christian control of the Lebanese government. 

1969  --  Muslims and secular left wing groups joined forces as the Lebanese National Movement (LNM).  Christians and Muslims started forming their own militia groups.  The most powerful of the Christian militias was the Kataeb (or Phalange) under Bachir Gemayel. 

The Lebanese Army starts to disintegrate. 

mid-1970s  --  Syria occupies areas in northern and western Lebanon.

1975-1990   civil war in Lebanon for fifteen years. About 150,000 people were killed, 200,000 were maimed and the economy was in shambles. During the civil war, Lebanon became one of the world's largest produces of narcotics. 

1975 (April 13)  --  gunmen in a speeding car kill four Christians in what was probably an attempt on the life of Pierre Gemayel.  Only hours later, Phalangists led by the Gemayels, killed 27 Palestinian militants traveling on a bus in Ein Al-Rumaneh.  The city erupted into violence. 

1975 (December 6)  --  Black Saturday.  Four Christians killed in East Beirut. The Christian Phalange erected roadblocks and asked people for identification cards inspected for religious affiliation. The throats were slit of Palestinian or Muslim caught in the roadblocks.  The Muslim responded in like manner.  Some 600 Muslims and Christians were killed on Black Saturday.  All-out fighting followed. 

Kamal Jumblatt (1917-1977) was the main leader of the anti-government forces in the early years of the war. 

1977  --  the Kataeb (or Phalange) helped found the Lebanese Forces. 

1978   Lebanon was invaded by the Israel Defense Forces.

1980s  --  much of Beirut was in ruins.  

1982   Lebanon invaded again by the Israel Defense Forces.  They evicted the PLO from the country.

1982  --  Christian President-Elect Bachir Gemayel assassinated. He had a long history of collaboration with the Israelis which made him suspect in the eyes of many Muslims. 

1986  --  the Lebanese Forces came under the leadership of Samir Geagea. 

1990   the war ended with the signing of the Taif Agreement.

1994  --  the activities of the Lebanese Forces were banned by the Syrians and the pro-Syrian government in Lebanon. 

2000 the end of Israel control of Southern Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak led the decision to withdraw due to continuous guerrilla attacks executed by Hezbollah militants. They believed that Hezbollah would grow weaker if the Israelis left Southern Lebanon.  Syria takes over from the Israelis from their strongholds in northern and western Lebanon.

2005  --  Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon. 

2006   2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Hezbollah put up a surprisingly good defense and rockets from Lebanon fired into Israel did a relatively substantial amount of damage and took a number of lives.


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