Under The Bombs Review

You can’t deny that the impetus underlying the making and filming of Under The Bombs is a strong one, one that takes filmmaking back to the impassioned days of neorealist cinema. Incensed by Israel’s relentless bombardment of South Lebanon in July 2006, a series of airstrikes over 33 days that would kill 1189 and leave millions of citizens homeless refugees, the French-Lebanese director Philippe Aractangi was determined to show audiences the scale of the horror and suffering ordinary people had to endure. It wasn’t enough to make a documentary about what was happening, the director realised – many international news reports had already testified to the destruction - but rather it was necessary to get in there on the ground and set a story there that would work within the context of the events and hopefully bring out the truth of the situation.

Under The Bombs therefore places the viewer directly into the turmoil of the immediate aftermath of the bombardment following the UN enforced ceasefire, when a woman is shown frantically trying to convince taxi drivers to take her down south to the region that has suffered the worst of the attacks. Her name is Zeina (Nada Abou Farhat), and she is looking for her six year old son who she had left with her sister in the small town of Saida while she was away in Dubai sorting out some business with her husband. Unable to make phone contact, she has no option but to make the journey herself. Somehow – well, with the offer of a lot of money actually – she manages to convince a taxi driver called Tony (Georges Khabbaz) to take her down into the war zone.


Evidently it’s not the smoothest of journeys – quite literally, since most bridges are down and the road has a tendency to disappear into deep holes at regular intervals. Not unexpectedly either, considering the nature of the road movie genre, the relationship between the taxi driver and his passenger is also less than cordial considering the circumstances of this troubled journey into the unknown. Wrapped up in her own worries and concerns, Zaina doesn’t have time to consider that her driver might have his own problems and reasons for undertaking the journey, but as long as she is willing to keep paying extra, Tony is happy to make all the diversions and side-trips necessary.

There’s something of Abbas Kiarostami in how the film blends fiction and reality, the car journey, filmed often from inside using digital photography, evoking Ten or – considering the dark nature of the journey – even Taste Of Cherry, particularly in the way that Philippe Aractangi is able to open up a sense of the situation through the characters inside a car, and the landscapes they travel through. Filming in the actual locations not long after the bombardments, the destruction of buildings and the devastation it causes to people’s lives is very evident in every scene of Under The Bombs. From the interior of the car looking out at the ruins along the roadside to the beautiful but ominous sunsets of the spectacular landscape photography, and from the encounters Zaina and Tony have with refugees and victims of the horror, the full impact of what has been lost is fully felt, the hand-held camera’s urgency adding to the immediacy and reality of the situation.


It’s unfortunate then that it’s the fictional element that feels out of place here, adding an unwelcome hysteria and forced stagy theatricality that contrasts uncomfortably with the more sobering testimonies and shocked demeanour of the real people they encounter on the journey. Through occasional interior monologues and reveries, and once even with a soliloquy to an imaginary audience, the director can’t resist making personal statements through the mouths of Zaina and Tony, lacking the faith that the film, the visuals and the facts of the situation – revealed through radio and TV news reports – can more than adequately speak for themselves. And indeed, it’s when the main characters become helpless witnesses rather than active participants that the film is at its best, and ultimately succeeds in its aim.

DVD


Under The Bombs is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.

Video
Digitally photographed, the film transfers very well to DVD. Artificial Eye’s progressive transfer is presented with anamorphic enhancement in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and it displays no marks, dustspots or compression problems. There is some minor shimmer, principally on vertical lines, but I only noticed this on one or two scenes at the most. Edge enhancement or haloing may also be noticeable on wider shots, but this could also be down to the nature of the digital photography. Otherwise, the image is fine, showing strong colours, bold contrasts and about as much definition in shadows as you would expect from the medium.


Audio
There are two audio options for the original soundtrack – a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and a surround Dolby Digital 5.1 option. Both are equally good, with clarity, strength and depth of tone, and a good spread of sound across the front speakers and additional ambience and effect in the surround option.

Subtitles
English subtitles are included and are optional. They are in a white font and clearly readable at all times.

Extras
Interview with director Philippe Aractingi (25:48)
Speaking in English, and very talkative with a lot to say about making the film, Aractingi gives some information on his background in war photography and documentary filmmaking and how they come together in Under The Bombs. The film is so exceptional in its making that you want to know about the details, and the director discusses at length how he was able to spontaneously finance, cast and shoot the film. Unable to stage much around a war, evidently there is a degree of having to adapt to circumstances and improvise. He also discusses the moral and political issues that the film has to deal with. You do get the impression that Aractingi must be half mad to undertake something as challenging as this, but he is evidently driven and talented.

An audience with director Philippe Aractingi (7:12)
This has the format of the "audience" on A Crude Awakening, giving a brief presentation of the film and following it with a discussion between the director and an audience who have just watched the film. Apparently done for a TV show, it’s necessarily brief, but thankfully Artificial Eye’s interview with the director gives a fuller view of the film and its making.

Interview with actress Nada Abou Farhat (12:56)
The actress who plays Zeina talks about the evident difficulties filming with only a loose script and in south Lebanon "under the bombs". The stories of the real people they met and her fellow actor Tony, helped her to focus on the meaning and purpose of the film.

Trailers
A Teaser (0:46) and a fuller Trailer (1:43) are included for the film.

Stills Gallery
24 photos of cast, crew and on-set stills are included in the Stills Gallery.


Overall
It’s amazing that anyone would be crazy enough to conceive of making a fictional film in the middle of a war, and I do feel a little uncomfortable with how those fictional elements rub up against the real misery of people in the situation, but the director’s intentions are noble and, despite those misgivings, to a large extent he does incredibly achieve what he set out to do and that is highlight the injustice of the situation and the plight of many ordinary people in Lebanon. Artificial Eye’s release of the film is first class, with a fine transfer and a full set of informative interviews in the extra features.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

Last updated: 30/04/2018 05:40:22

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