1982 is a thoughtful meditation on childhood, struggle, and community that is at once heart-wrenching and deeply optimistic.

Though it is set on the outskirts of Beirut during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, writer/director Oualid Mouaness’ 1982 is surprisingly light on politics.  Instead of focusing on the larger economic, political, and ideological tensions of the conflict, 1982 spotlights how the invasion impacted the lives of ordinary individuals.

Based, in part, on the director’s own childhood experiences, 1982 focuses on the students and teachers at a private school in Beirut as they struggle to hold onto a sense of structure and control in the face of extraordinary events.  The film switches between the students’ perspective, and that of the teachers.  Understandably, the children have little understanding of the war going on around them.  Wissam (Mohamad Dalli) is an elementary school student with a crush on Joana, a girl he has hardly ever spoken too.  As he navigates his end of year exams and tries to win her affections, the war (which has, up until now, been the humdrum back drop of his life) escalates and his teachers Yasmine (Nadine Labaki) and Joseph (Rodrigue Sleiman) struggle to keep a lid on their own fear for the sake of their students.

Though the story and script are simple and straightforward, 1982 is elevated by outstanding performances from both the young actors who play the students and the adult cast.  Nadine Labaki gives a tremendous performance as Yasmine, a young teacher trying to get through a challenging day while worrying about the safety of her brother in the militia.  Labaki is the kind of actor who can make walking across a room or opening a window completely engrossing to watch.  Her performance captures the intense anxiety and stress of trying to hold onto normalcy in the middle of a crisis.

My one gripe with this film is that the teachers, and adult characters in general, are far more compelling than Wissam’s efforts to confess his feelings to Joana.  While sweet at first, Wissam’s story quickly becomes tedious and fails to move beyond a cliché and unoriginal narrative of pre-teen romance.  Yasmine and Joseph’s story is far more subtle and unexpected in its development.

1982 was Lebanon’s entry in the 2020 Oscars and, though it wasn’t nominated, it certainly has all the trappings of an Academy Awards selection.  It is, essentially, a period drama set against the backdrop of a violent historical conflict.  Though Mouaness is an experienced producer, this is his first feature-length film.  I was impressed by the subtlety, tenderness, and quiet humour on display.  While its adolescent love story is lacking, there is still a lot to enjoy.


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