Film Review:  1982  (NZIFF 2020)

Director Oualid Mouness weaves a well-crafted story with 1982, drawing excellent performances from its young cast. Set on the outskirts of Beirut, their lives and the surrounding countryside seem so peaceful and predictable. But as civil war erupts in the world around them, adolescence further topples their world with perils of its own.

Director: Oualid Mouness
Starring:  Nadine Labaki, Mohamed Dalli, Gia Madi, Rodrigue Sleiman, Ghassan Malouf

As the Israeli Army begins to invade Lebanon in 1982, so eleven-year-old Wassim (Dalli) has to pluck up the courage to tell his classmate Joanna (Madi) of his crush on her, at the private school they both attend on the outskirts of Beirut.

The movie starts peacefully, with wide shots of the landscape of Southern Lebanon and the suburbs of Beirut.

But this day is a pivotal moment in the geopolitical history of the Middle East. The Israeli Defense Forces are looking to drive out the PLO, who have been engaging Israel on their northern border for several months.

Pupils and teachers are arriving for the day. We meet Yasmine (Labaki, director of Caphaneum) being driven by her brother, a Christian Phalangist Militarist.

This has been a country devastated by civil war and factional conflict for over a decade. The tension is palpable between the siblings.

Yasmine meets fellow teacher Joseph (Sleiman). They are romantically involved, but Joseph has clashed with her brother just recently, the first time he came to meet her family.

The tension drops away and we are completely in the environment of a sheltered private middle school. Director Mouness  manages to get some excellent low-key natural acting performances from his young cast.

Wassim is slightly built, is passionate about drawing super-heroes. The Senior Mistress compliments him on this. He has a slightly awkward, chubby, bespectacled best friend Majid (Malouf).

Wassim is infatuated with Joanna, the top student in the class. Today, as the whole country is on the verge of breakdown, is the day he has to go up and tell her how he feels.

But nothing runs smoothly.

Misunderstandings, wrong conclusions. The two boys fall out over the girl. The religious and ethnic prejudices are present in the background.

Then the atmosphere changes as the first jets fly across the city and the bombs start to be heard in the distance.

It is final exams time. The senior staff decide to continue with classes and exams. There is palpable stress amongst the adults, which is superbly conveyed by the Director’s hand.

High–pitched whine of jets, explosions in the distance. Phones start to ring and stop suddenly. Phone lines are down.

The children have to be moved out on buses, or else sheltered in the gymnasium.

In the instantly surreal, heightened atmosphere where the whole world has suddenly changed and there is no longer any certainty, the audience can feel the tension of the drama on the screen.

A well-crafted story, matched with excellent performances from the adults and the principal children. Highly recommended.

1982 is showing as part of the NZ International Film Festival. For tickets/online access, please go HERE.

Rev Orange Peel