West Beirut is a gripping 1999 film written and directed by Ziad Doueiri who grew up in this war-torn city in the 1970s. He has made a deeply human film set in 1975 revolving around two teenage boys who are trying to keep their souls alive in a very tense environment. The city is split in two: East Beirut is Christian controlled and West Beirut is Muslim. They and their families watch in dismay as the city becomes a battleground and the citizens are caught in the crossfire.
Costa Brava, Lebanon is another tragic film about those whose lives are shattered by the situation in Beirut. This one is set in the near future, and what has happened in the city is completely spelled out. We do know that the Badri family thinks they have escaped the pollution and political chaos of Beirut by living in their mountain home off the grid. But the government invades their paradise and dashes their dreams by creating a huge garbage landfill right outside their fence. From what they see and smell, especially when some of the garbage is burned, the landfill is being used to dispose of toxic waste.
What this family experiences is not a small problem. A 2013 report noted that 200 million people worldwide live at risk of exposure to toxic waste pollution. According to the report, “The World Health Organization, in conjunction with the World Bank, estimates that 23% of the deaths in the developing world are attributable to environmental factors, including pollution, and that environmental risk factors contribute to more than 80% of regularly reported illnesses.”
In her debut first feature Mounia Akl focuses on the clash between Souraya (Nadine Labaki), a famous singer, and her husband Walid (Saleh Bakri), a former activist. They met at a protest rally in Beirut and appear to share the same values. But as the city’s waste increasingly impinges on their mountain oasis, they have a decision to make. Can they really protect themselves, his mother (Lilian Chakar Khoury), and their daughters (young and curious Rim, played by twins Ceana and Geana Reston, and sexually awakening teenager Tala, played by Nadia Charbel) from its health and emotional consequences?
As this family grapples with what is the best way to fight back, we find ourselves asking what we would do in a similar situation — and even whether we and others in our community are indeed now in a similar situation.