In July 2006, war broke out between Israel and Lebanon. Unable to adequately process what was happening to his home country, Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi decided to pick up his camera and start shooting ten days in, with no script and only the vague nugget of a story in his head. The end result is Under the Bombs, a fictional tale set against the backdrop of a very real battle. Amazingly, there are only two actors in the film; everyone else (citizens, soldiers, journalists) play themselves. When there's a bomb going off in the distance, it's not some expensive special effects shot. Yes, it's a real bomb. The carnage, the destruction, the sadness, the death -- none of it is staged, none of it is part of some elaborate set. It's all real. And then somewhere in the middle is our fictional story, which follows a mother searching for her sister and her son.
Zelna (Nada Abou Farhat) lives in Dubai, yet when her marriage begins to fall apart, she sends her son to Southern Lebanon to stay with her sister for awhile so that he doesn't have to watch his parents fighting all the time. Not long after that, war breaks out between Lebanon and Israel. Determined to find her sister and son, Zelna heads to Lebanon through Turkey. However, because of the blockade, she finally reaches the port of Beirut on the day of the ceasefire. With tensions still high, and the south in ruins, Zelna soon finds it impossible to locate a taxi driver willing to take her south. Eventually, she comes across a driver named Tony (Georges Khabbaz); a hustler and womanizer who sees a pretty face and dollar signs. Thus, the two set out on a journey across a ravaged country in search of a son, a sister and a little sanity.
What follows is an intense, yet beautiful story about two strangers who come together with one common goal: seek out the truth. All Zelna wants is to find her family alive, while Tony, at first, is in it for the money and to maybe woo this hot little number in the blue dress. By the end of this road trip story, their roles will switch and Zelna will be the one longing for male attention, after her husband fails to show interest in traveling to Lebanon because of too many business meetings. And when Tony is finally given the opportunity he'd been longing for (a night of romance with Zelna), he tosses it aside to continue the search for her family.
Under the Bombs is an amazing (and risky) piece of filmmaking from a director who doesn't let his own personal views get in the way. This isn't an anti-Israel film, but more of an anti-war film. The characters never get political, though we hear and see random news broadcasts throughout the film -- each is more concerned with the task at hand, while both live in this sort of daze trying to come to terms with why ordinary people are dying. And when you know going in that there are only two actors; that the film was shot during the war; that everything around them is real; that, while fictional, their story most likely belongs to many people of the region -- then Under the Bombs becomes more than "just another festival film." It's damaging, powerful, depressing -- and, like real life, a happy ending is in no way guaranteed.