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Breaking the silence on the Lebanese civil war

About a War
Regissør: Daniele Rugo Abi Weaver

THE WAR IN LEBANON / About a War shows how understanding history can contribute to reconciliation and progress in a society where it is still taboo to talk about the past.


Lebanon's capital Beirut still lives up to its reputation as Middle East Paris in some ways. Street cafes, fashion-conscious youth, exciting food traditions and many cultural offerings attract tourists from all over the world. But behind it all lies a pain and a bloody past that is rarely talked about. The documentary About a War gives us a unique insight into the near history and character of this city and this country. It is a strong portrait of three warriors, a nation, justice and hope.

What makes some people take up arms and go to war? And what happens to them when the war is over? ask the directors in this movie.

It has been estimated that the Lebanese civil war, which took place between 1975 and 1990, claimed 170 lives, while more than 000 million people became refugees. 1 people are still missing. It was just before the war that this small, lively country tore into rubbish, something many Norwegians are well aware of. Norwegian peacekeeping forces were deployed in southern Lebanon between 17 and 000.

One country, many cultures

Lebanon is a result of the happy days of colonialism and later imperialism, first under Ottoman rule and then under the French. Neighboring Syria has always believed that the country belonged to them, but in 1946 Lebanon became an independent state, with different ethnic groups, such as Druze, Christian Maronites, Shiites and Sunnis. The fragile balance between Christian and Muslim groups led to armed confrontations in 1975 that ended in full-blown civil war.

The large Palestinian refugee population that had flowed to Lebanon from 1948 onwards took part in the war through its own guerrilla groups. This eventually led to interventions from both Israel and Syria and ended, among other things, with the massacres of the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982.

The war is a persistent wound in the Lebanese soul.

The so-called Taif agreement of 1990 signaled the end of the war, and the warring parties were integrated into a sensible system of governance. All religious groups had their positions and their "power" to relate to. An amnesty was introduced and many of the guerrillas slipped back into the community, but without any follow-up.

Today, Lebanon is still a deeply divided society. In addition, there is a great deal of foreign interference in internal affairs. New militia groups have emerged, such as Hezbollah, with their close ties to the regimes in Syria and Iran respectively. In addition, there are now over one million Syrian refugees living in the country.

An important contribution to modern history writing

The war is a persistent wound in the Lebanese soul. This film is therefore important, both as a time frame and as a reflection. Interviews with academics along the way give us the necessary historical context.

Filmmakers Daniele Rugo and Abi Weaver have spent three years on a continuous commute between London and Beirut, where they sank testimony from victims, aid organizations and ex-warriors.

About a War
Directors Daniele Rugo and Abi Weaver

The film is a continuous conversation and self-reflection focusing on three actors of the civil war: Intelligence Officer Assad belonged to the right-wing Christian militia, Ahed is a Palestinian refugee and guerrilla warrior, while Nassim is a communist, commander and warrior.

We quickly gain an insight into the personal motivation of each. They blindly believe in their group, their unique history, and that what they do is for Lebanon's best. It is all mixed with pan-Arabian currents, peculiar Palestinian needs and a Lebanese identity.

Nassim, the former communist warrior, says: "It was as if the war was just coming to me. I felt that this was my opportunity to change things. An opportunity to escape the eternal pursuit of problems and thereby overcome the eternal feeling of defeat. "

About a War brings out the personal motivation the three warriors once had. Today they are traumatized. Their original view of "the other" has changed. They see no joy in war, only destruction.

Today, all three ex-warriors are engaged in various forms of social civil society projects. Among other things, they work with young people to warn them against unilateral negative perceptions of others. The film therefore becomes an important contribution to modern history writing in a country that has thrown a veil of silence over what happened. They even see that the story is far more complex than what they themselves understood in their younger days. It is this understanding that has become their "salvation".

Hard to reconcile with the past

About a War is a fine "sequel" to one of last year's most interesting films, the Lebanese film insult. It was first shown during Arab Film Days in Oslo and later put on regular cinema.

Director Ziad Doueiri made a powerful film based on a small quarrel between two men on the street in Beirut, a conflict that is gradually becoming something Lebanon is dealing with. The film provided an emotional and artistic insight into the inflamed relationship between different cultures and was Oscar-nominated for best foreign language film.

About a War
Directors Daniele Rugo and Abi Weaver

insult is a fiction film that shows how difficult it is to reconcile with the past, in a society where old wounds have not yet healed. We follow the figure Tony Hanna, a proud Christian Lebanese with an edge to Palestinians, and Palestinian Yasser Salameh, and soon the two end up in a situation that escalates. And as the movie goes on, we eventually understand that it's the wounds and trauma of the past that it's all about. What it's never talked about.

The past is still controversial in Lebanon. When the Paris-based Doueiri left for his homeland to celebrate the premiere, he was imprisoned at Beirut Airport. He was accused of acting internationally by filming in Israel. Someone would put him on trial for treason. Several felt that his film was an insult in itself.

insult was a fiction movie. It showed us how banal details can sustain a lasting tragedy. About a War is, on the other hand, based on facts. It is even stronger. The film shows us how self-understanding and the desire to understand oneself and history can contribute to reconciliation and progress. Maybe it can help the Lebanese people gain greater self-awareness and more openness around the war?

Film is a powerful medium. Sometimes it can be the purest truth serum.

The film's website.

Andrew P. Kroglund
Andrew P. Kroglund
Kroglund is a critic and writer. Also Secretary General of BKA (Grandparents' Climate Action).

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