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'1982' explores the complexities of love and war in Lebanon

Mohamad Dalli (as Wissam) and Gia Madi (as Joanna) in the film "1982."
Mohamad Dalli (as Wissam) and Gia Madi (as Joanna) in the film "1982."

Updated June 10, 2022 at 9:51 AM ET

1982 isn't your typical war film.

It's a love story set during growing tensions in the Middle East, when Israel invaded Lebanon 40 years ago. Lebanese filmmaker Oualid Mouaness, inspired by his own memories, wrote the script and directed the film.

He was 10 years old, attending an idyllic school in the Beirut suburbs, when the war changed life as he knew it. "I do remember everything being so beautiful and everything sort of changing," Mouaness tells Morning Edition.

"I remember that afternoon when the dogfights were going on in the sky. That's when my brother who was younger than me just completely lost it and started yelling at us to go inside because he thought the airplanes were going to fall on us," he says.

The invasion happened against the backdrop of a city divided, between a mostly Muslim West Beirut and a predominately Christian East Beirut.

Mouaness bases 1982 at a school much like the one he attended. The film is set in the mountains of Lebanon and the school is picturesque. It's religiously mixed, the kids switch seamlessly from Arabic to English to French and they're not yet indoctrinated into the adult world of religious and ideological divides.

Much of the story revolves around 11-year old Wissam and what it means to live in a place separated by checkpoints. As the fear of war looms, Wissam is consumed by a crush on a girl in his class – something that the filmmaker remembers experiencing from his own childhood.

Interview highlights

On the filmmaker's own memories of 1982:

We went to school. It was a normal school day and then all of a sudden literally the war got too close to home sonically, the sounds of airplanes just became very constant. And then as they got louder and louder really the teachers could not hide it anymore. And even though we had the sense that we weren't going to get bombed per se, everything was so invasive in terms of the sound and the nature and the country, that we had to be sent home.

I was fortunate to be in a very mixed school in Lebanon at the time which was not very common. There were all religions in my school. There were kids from both sides of the divide – West and East Beirut. Those kids who came from West Beirut, would have to go through checkpoints to get to the school. What became very clear that day is suddenly all the crossings were shut down and the kids could not go back to their homes in West Beirut. Nobody could get through on the phone lines.

On seeing war through the eyes of teachers and students:

It was emotional for the teachers. It was emotional for the kids. It was a separation between the adult world and the kids world. As kids, we don't really care and this film really goes there. We don't really care if someone is a Muslim or a Christian. They're our playmates. We feel the same. We can love each other. We can do everything together. As the adult world sort of starts to infringe on the children's world, you get to see the separation.

It's the first time that the kids realize that now there are things that are going to separate us and differentiate us as we grow up. And the world of adults in any war is a very contaminated world. It's a world that's driven by ideology, by religion, by social mores. In most parts of the world, there is the left and the right.

For Wissam's teacher Yasmine, her brother is on the right. The man she is in love with is on the left. And she loves both of them and she's in the middle of it – which is really a reflection of almost every mother in Lebanon at the time and in this case you have the character of Yasmine, Nadine Labaki's character, really finding herself in the midst of this polemic, of this division in Lebanon that is very important and she is trying to bring it together.

On love trumping political divides:

As you grow up, you're sort of forced by society and by politics to take sides. And fear. The young kid is fearless. His brother has fear. He doesn't. And that's why his brother tells him 'Are you crazy. You want to go to West Beirut?' And Wissam doesn't care because he's not afraid. For him, being able to profess and see this girl is more important than anything that could come between them including a war or a checkpoint.

On the significance of using magical realism:

I knew this is where the film needed to end. This is a film about kids and about hope. Kids have unfettered imagination and they see a world differently. In this case, there are so many reasons that I felt 100-percent, this is how I should leave the audience. As beautiful as the narrative is, it gets really tough for the viewer – that I felt that if I managed to have the viewer be Wissam, then they would feel what I felt in the necessity of this which is basically to dream.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Reena Advani is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition and NPR's news podcast Up First.