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Review: In the Battlefields

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In the Battlefields

Danielle Arbid’s In the Battlefields takes place in Lebanon in the early ‘80s. A civil war is being waged on the streets, but it’s the domestic conflict inside a middle-class Beirut apartment building that’s most terrorizing. The director summons a stirring social and sexual awakening in the patient expression of 12-year-old Lina (Marianne Feghali), who spends much of the film watching her family self-destruct: her vicious aunt Yvonne mistreats her maid while her father—having incurred a fortune in gambling debts—is hounded by local thugs. What with the suffocating morass of frustration and rage that consumes these emotional cripples, the film is in many ways the philosophical kin of Lucretia Martel’s La Cienaga. Arbid has an Antonioniesque talent for contrast, pitting interior and exterior spaces against each other to call attention to a political and social communion between the two realms. Battles are fought and Lina watches as the dust settles, but soon she discovers that her actions have powerful implications and quickly takes on the role of resistance fighter. When Siham (Rawia Elchab) doesn’t prepare a dish to her monstrous boss’s liking and is dutifully embarrassed before a roomful of people, Lina reacts to her aunt’s bourgeois aggression by pulling a table full of food to the floor. Immediately an allegiance is formed, and via her friendship with the older Siham, Lina meets her first boy and receives her first kiss. But after Lina naïvely betrays Siham, prisons are built and more explosions are set off. Arbid may not stress the politics of the civil war in Lebanon, but its emotional toll is clearly felt, not only in the cruel choices the film’s characters make but also in the shots of devastated buildings outside the Beirut apartment. Even in the wake of wars, people continue to experience everyday melodramas, a point Aribid stresses in paralleling a country’s social unrest with a girl’s coming-of-age.

Cast: Marianne Feghali, Rawia Elchab, Laudi Arbid, Aouni Kawas, Roger Assaf, Carmen Lebbos Director: Danielle Arbid Screenwriter: Danielle Arbid Running Time: 88 min Rating: NR Year: 2004 Buy: Video

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