Skies of Lebanon

Skies of Lebanon ★★★★½

He was an astrophysicist who dreamed of sending the first Lebanese man into space. She was a Swiss artist who moved to Beirut to work as a nanny. For this seemingly unusual pair, it was love at first sight, but even the most idyllic romance struggles to withstand the hardships of war.

Director and cowriter Chloé Mazlo (along with cowriter Yacine Badday) draws on her grandmother’s memories of living through the Lebanese Civil War to weave a story of the conflict from a personal perspective in her feature film debut, “Skies of Lebanon.” Mazlo also utilizes her background in directing animation to great effect, as is evident almost from the film’s beginning. The opening scenes of the movie are whimsical and romantic, almost like a fairy tale, as the protagonist Alice (Alba Rohrwacher) recounts her life leading up to that point. Stop motion animation is used to detail her upbringing in 1950s Switzerland, picturesque but, assumedly, dull; Alice yearns to leave, and after receiving a job offer in Beirut, she takes it. The scene then transitions to live action as Alice disembarks in the city, but even then, Mazlo gives her surroundings an arty touch; the grainy film and static backgrounds look like something out of a vintage travelogue, or a moving postcard.

The romantic environment leads to actual romance after Alice meets Joseph (Wajdi Mouawad) in a café, and they share a typical rom-com meet-cute. Sitting near each other, they steal glances but never actually lock eyes; on every encounter, Joseph sits a little closer to her, until he finally initiates a conversation by asking her to borrow the sugar at her table. The montage that follows combines dreamy backdrops and animation to portray Alice and Joseph’s life together. They share their dreams. They get married. They have a child, a daughter (this life event cleverly shown via Alice and Joseph alternately snatching at passing storks until they catch one). They have a lovely home, all bright yellows and blues, and as the years go by and they all grow older, their house is populated by family and friends. No dialogue is required to convey their evident bliss and the fullness of their lives as they move into the 1970s. So it’s all the more jarring when, in the middle of a birthday party, Alice hears a report on the radio about an attack in the city that resulted in the deaths of 30 civilians, and the film cuts to a shot of bodies strewn about the street.

Full review on Katie at the Movies.

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