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1982 is a timely story of war’s impact on ordinary people

March 30, 2024 at 5:44 pm

Israeli troops seen in Lebanon during the 1982 Lebanon War [Michael Zarfati / IDF Spokesperson’s Unit / Wikimedia]

The Arabic film 1982, directed and written by Oualid Mouaness, offers a rare and emotional depiction of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that year and its impact on everyday people. Following the Israeli invasion through the eyes of a young boy at an elementary school in East Beirut, the film is a vehicle for Mouaness’s own memories of the invasion during his childhood. The relevance of the film’s commentary on war can be felt deeply while watching it now, as Palestinians in Gaza live their daily lives in the midst of violence and military invasion.

Set during the last days of the school year, the film parallels the students’ stories with those of the teachers. The main protagonists’ problems are set against a backdrop of an encroaching invasion. The film follows Wissam’s (Mohamad Dalli) attempts to confess his love to his crush, Joanna (Gia Madi), which causes tensions with his best friend, Majid (Ghassan Maalouf). Meanwhile, teacher Yasmine (Nadine Labaki) is distracted by familial issues, particularly her brother George’s (Said Serhan) decision to travel south and join a militia.

Within the conversations of the children and adults, we find references to the problems of the world outside the school walls. We learn that Wissam’s crush Joanna is from West Beirut and will need to go through checkpoints to return home during the invasion. We hear Yasmine and her romantic interest Joseph (Rodrigue Sleiman) tensely discuss their different views on Lebanon’s ongoing political conflict.

In 1982, Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war marked by sectarian conflict. The Israeli invasion served as a catalyst for military conflict between the Israeli Defense Forces, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and their respective allies. Despite veiled references to the war, the film insists on pushing forward with the narrative of an ordinary day at school, as the teachers and administrators insist on moving forward with the students’ exams.

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The film boasts powerful visuals like tanks approaching while the children play soccer and quarrel in the schoolyard, but the sounds of war slowly growing louder gives the film its air of anticipation and dread. The adult characters struggle with deciding when to cancel the remainder of the school day, and there is something heart-wrenching about their optimistic defiance of the impact the invasion will inevitably have on their lives.

It is the children who instinctively know that they cannot continue with their schoolwork in the midst of a military invasion. Yet, it is also the innocence and naivety of childhood that allows for the students’ focus to remain on the matter of Wissam’s anonymous letter to Joanna. While there is a stark contrast between the innocence of children and the knowing anxiety of adults, it is evident that they are equally powerless in determining the outcome of the days ahead.

With the lurking horrors of war in the background and an ordinary schoolboy story in the forefront, the film highlights how war harms those who have nothing to do with it. Wissam is a fitting embodiment of this notion as an innocent boy who does not understand the ongoing war and ignores the literal and figurative boundary between East and West Beirut in his pursuit of Joanna. The children care more about their own dramas and the excitement of school being cancelled than Lebanon’s political divisions or the looming violence. The question of how long these children will be able to persist in sweet ignorance is similarly looming throughout the film.

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At the close of the film, Wissam and other students see the bombing of Beirut in the distance from the school bus taking them home. Wissam enters a state of fantasy as he watches his own drawing of a superhero come to life to protect the city from violence. While there is a sense of hope in Wissam’s ability to envision an alternate reality, the final shot of the empty school leaves the audience in a state of anticipation for what is still to come.

1982 is powerful in its subtle pushback against the perpetual politicisation of war and conflict in the Middle East, as it forces the viewer to consider the human impact of war. By juxtaposing everyday life with a military invasion, the film reminds us that war happens to ordinary people living ordinary lives. While the trope of “war in the Middle East” is exploited by Western governments and pundits alike, Mouaness’s film resists typical depictions of war to tell a more human story.

1982 offers a poignant portrayal of the reality that the “everyday” continues, even as the war begins. This message is timelier than ever, as the stories of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza seem to be an afterthought to discussions of the war in the media and public discourse. The film’s narrative brings to mind photos of families in Gaza decorating their tents for Ramadan as they celebrate their traditions while violence rages around them.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.