“I should have a normal job,” gripes a young Lebanese man to one of his teammates on a bomb-clearance squad in Remnants of a War, and the flat, unsentimental reply comes: “You talk like we’re in Europe.” In the wake of Israel’s 33-day invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 (in response to Hezbollah kidnappings of Israeli soldiers, and only six years after Israel had withdrawn forces that had occupied Lebanon since 1982), thousands of cluster munitions fired or dropped in the southern part of the country had left uncounted unexploded “bomblets” in orchards, homes, and roads. With casualties mounting after residents returned from exile in Beirut, only to be maimed or killed by a hidden “dud” that was stepped on or dislodged, private companies recruited citizens to assume the bulk of “de-mining” patrols from an overwhelmed United Nations disposal unit. The title of Jawad Metni’s documentary refers doubly to the legacy of the bomblets’ menace and the crippled economy that forces the film’s trainees to turn to bomb clearance—it’s postwar Lebanon’s only growth industry. (One engaged couple works together on a bomb team in the hope that their marriage will finally come off when they’ve earned enough to buy a house, after seeing earlier savings eaten up by wartime relocation and the fizzling of their pre-bombardment careers.) Academics and Human Rights Watch analysts place the population’s struggles into historical and geopolitical context, and despite perhaps an excess of atmospheric down-time dancing scenes, Metni foregrounds the ever-present threat the Lebanese are trying to erase by punctuating his footage with isolated, medium-long shots of the crack and puff of another munition being detonated by the de-miners in a verdant, sunny landscape. Remnants of a War’s explicit questions linger: What would another occupation bring, and when will Israel and the U.S. join 111 nations in signing a cluster-bomb ban agreement?
Remnants of a War premieres June 17 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2009. Click here for screening information.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.