BEIRUT: About a War demonstrates how understanding our history can breed solace, solidarity, and progress in a society where the past is a taboo.

Andrew Kroglund
Andrew Kroglund
Kroglund is a critic and writer.
Published date: May 24, 2019

About a War

Daniele RugoAbi Weaver

Masahiro HirakuboDana Abi Ghanem

Great Britain, Lebanon

Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, still lives up to its reputation as the Paris of the Middle East. Street cafés, young people in fancy clothes, exciting culinary traditions and a varied cultural life attracts tourists from all over the world. But behind it all lies a hidden pain and a bloody past rarely talked about. The documentary About a War allows a unique glance into the near history and character of this city and land. In essence it portrays three warriors, a nation, justice and hope.

What makes certain people take up arms and go to war? What life awaits these people when the war is over? These are the questions posed by the filmmakers.

According to estimations, the Lebanese civil war, which raged from 1975 – 1990, cost 170,000 lives, while it turned a 1 million people into refugees. As yet, 17,000 people remain missing according to records. The war nearly tore this little, lively country asunder, a fact many Norwegians are well acquainted with. Norwegian peacekeeping forces were stationed in South Lebanon from 1978 – 1998.

One country, many cultures

Lebanon is a result of the heyday of colonialism, followed by imperialism, first under Ottoman rule and later under the French. Neighboring Syria has always voiced claims for the country, yet in 1946 Lebanon was established as a separate state, with several ethnicities like Druzes, Christians Maronites, Shias and Sunnis. The precarious balance between Christians and Muslim groups led to armed conflict in 1975, soon escalating into full-blown civil war.

Neighboring Syria has always voiced claims for the country, yet in 1946 Lebanon was established as a separate state.

The substantial Palestinian population of refugees, who had seeped into Lebanon from 1948 onwards, took part in the war through separate guerrilla groups. This led to interventions from both Israel and Syria, ending with the massacres at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982.

About a War. Director(s): Daniele Rugo, Abi Weaver

The so-called Taif Agreement from 1990 signaled the end of the war, and the warring parties were integrated through an ingenious system of government, where all religious groups were allotted their positions according to meticulously calculated fractions of power. An amnesty was instigated and many of the guerilla soldiers found their way back to society, although no follow-up was offered.

Today, Lebanon remains a deeply segregated society. On top of this, they suffer a great deal of foreign intervention in their internal political affairs. New military groups have appeared, like Hezbollah, with close links to the regimes of Syria and Iran. Added to their challenges are 1 million Syrian refugees within Lebanon’s borders.

An important contribution to the documentation of recent history

The war remains as a wound in the Lebanese soul. Thus, this film is important, both as an impression of an epoch and as a reflection. As the film progresses, interviews with academics provide us with the necessary historical context.

The filmmakers Daniele Rugo and Abi Weaver have spent 3 years continually commuting between London and Beirut, where they have gathered testimonies from victims, NGOs and veterans.

About a War is a good «sequel» to one of last year’s most interesting movies, the Lebanese film The Insult.

The film is a continuous conversation and reflection focusing on three partakers of the civil war: The intelligence officer Assad was part of the Christian militia, Ahed, a Palestine refugee and guerilla warrior, whereas Nassim is a communist commander and warrior.

Right away, we get an intimate understanding of their respective motivations. They harbor a blind faith in the righteousness of their groups, their unique histories, and that what they do is the best choice for Lebanon. It all gets mixed in with pan-Arabian movements, particular Palestinian needs and a separate Lebanese identity.

About a War. Director(s): Daniele Rugo, Abi Weaver

Nassim, the former communist warrior says: «It was as if the war came to me. I felt that this was my opportunity to make a change. An opportunity to escape the eternal struggle to escape problems and to shake the recurring feeling of failure.»

About a War clearly depicts the personal motivation that once drove the three participants into war. Today they are traumatized. Their initial understanding of «the Other» has changed. They see no glory in war, just destruction.

About a War is a good «sequel» to one of last year’s most interesting movies, the Lebanese film The Insult.

Today, all three veterans are involved in different kinds of civil social projects. For instance, they work with young people to warn them about negative and partial opinions about others. In a country that has shrouded the past in silence, this film is a significant contribution to historical records. The main characters appreciate how much more complex the story is than what they grew up believing, This understanding has become their «salvation».

A difficult reckoning with history. About a War is a good «sequel» to one of last year’s most interesting movies, the Lebanese film The Insult. The director Ziad Doueiri made an incendiary film where it all starts with a row between two men on the streets of Beirut, which turns into a national Lebanese affair. The film provided an emotional and artistic insight into the touchy relationship between cultures, and received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film.

About a War. Director(s): Daniele Rugo, Abi Weaver

The Insult is a fiction film that demonstrates how hard it can be to deal with the ghosts of the past. We follow the character Tony Hanna, a proud Christian Lebanese who is spiteful towards the Palestines, and the Palestine Yasser Salameh, both enmeshed in an escalating situation.

The war remains as a wound in the Lebanese soul.

The past is still controversial in Lebanon. When the Paris-based Doueiri returned to his home country to celebrate the premiere, he was imprisoned at the airport in Beirut. He was charged with unpatriotic conduct on the grounds that he had been filming in Israel. Some wanted to take him to court for treachery. Many held the opinion that the film itself was an insult.

The Insult was a fiction film. It showed how banal details can keep nurturing a continuing tragedy. About a War, on the other hand, is based on truth, giving it an even stronger impact. It shows us how self-reflection and striving to understand oneself and history can contribute to consolidation and progress. Hopefully it can also help the Lebanese people to further self-knowledge and openness about the war.

Film is a strong medium. Sometimes it can be like a truth serum.


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Modern Times Review