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Some of the best war films depict how the lives of those who are not directly engaged in an armed conflict and the politics surrounding it, the innocents who just want to live their day-to-day lives, are shattered as they are forced to harden faster than any semblance of hope can reach them. Children are some of the most resilient amongst us to pain and suffering brought on by war, as witnessed by the joy in Ukrainian refugee children's eyes upon being given something as simple as a cheap toy.
Louis Malle's masterpiece Au Revoir Les Enfants is still one of the most heartbreaking and devastating films about the holocaust, even though it doesn't show a single frame of the concentration camps or World War II for that matter. The film takes place entirely in a boarding school and depicts the friendship between a Christian kid and a Jewish student who's hiding his identity.
As the tensions of the war rise, we realize the encroaching tragedy that will break apart this friendship but are also given hope regarding the value of human resilience in the face of atrocities, depicted through the innocent desires of a child to protect his friend because, well, he's his friend.
Writer/director Oualid Mouaness' simple but intimately touching war drama 1982 reminded me of Louis Malle's seminal film. It also takes place in a school during wartime. This time, the war is the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and the school is in Beirut, stuck in the conflict.
Mouaness meticulously examines what appears to be a regular day at school, especially for the precautious student Wissam (Mohamad Dalli), whose main goal has nothing to do with the encroaching violence, but everything to do with what kids his age, on the cusp of adolescence, care about: He wants to express his crush on a classmate.
Meanwhile, his teacher Yasmine (Nadine Labaki), struggles to keep her worries about his militant brother wanting to join the war effort deep inside as she puts on an air of business as usual in order to keep the kids calm. There's an underlying sense of panic within the entire school staff, while they all do their best to distract the kids from the upcoming doom. It deftly underlines just how much of a miraculous effort being a good teacher can really be.
As Wissam tries various ways of revealing himself to his crush, Mouaness adopts a hangout movie style reminiscent of Richard Linklater's work, emphasizing the trivial (For the vast consequences of the war, perhaps, but not for Wissam) conversations he has with various other students about his motives and attempts to open up to his crush. There are some tense arguments between the teachers about the political sides of the conflict, but they are kept purely on humanistic levels, not giving too many details about the specificities of the war itself, but about how the war in general affects those who deserve no part of it.
Mouaness inserts meditative sequences of universal everyday school activity in between scenes of intense drama (May it be the actual life or death situation that Yasmine is facing, or the prospect of Wissam's crush rejecting him, which might as well be a life or death situation for him). These moments allow the audience to take a break and realize just how fragile the peace we all take for granted may be.
When the war finally reaches the school, Mouaness ends his film on a magical realism note that could have come across as gimmicky and cloying but ends up brilliantly playing on a child's desire for a superhero savior to swoop in and take all the pain and misery away. If only.
1982 will be in theatres in New York City on June 10, followed by a run in Los Angeles on June 24.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com