Throwback Thursday: The making of Oscar-nominated director Ziad Doueiri

Updated 05 April 2018
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Throwback Thursday: The making of Oscar-nominated director Ziad Doueiri

  • Ziad Doueiri’s compelling civil-war drama was an early indication of the Oscar-nominated filmmaker’s talent
  • The controversial Lebanese filmmaker made history as the first director to represent his country at the Academy Awards this year
LONDON: This year has proved one of monumental milestones for Ziad Doueiri. In March, the controversial Lebanese filmmaker made history as the first director to represent his country at the Academy Awards, with fourth picture “The Insult” (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film). Now, May marks the 20th anniversary of Doueiri’s game-changing debut “West Beirut”, which won the François Chalais Award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and was soon after hailed as the first Arabic-language film to enjoy a worldwide release. If Middle Eastern filmmaking has enjoyed a creative renaissance in the 21st century, then “West Beirut” helped pave the way.
With sad inevitability, it was the subject of war which unlocked international cinema screens. But while Doueiri cut his teeth serving on first assistant camera for “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” there is none of Quentin Tarantino’s sensationalist gore in his autobiographical Lebanese Civil War drama.

Despite reservations, the director’s younger brother Rami Doueiri was cast as the film’s Truffaut-esque Tarek, a goofy, anti-authoritarian, middle-class teenager who we first encounter disrupting the French national anthem in the schoolyard. Following the catastrophic bus massacre of April 1975 — viscerally evoked to a soundtrack of legendary Lebanese diva Fayrouz — the city is carved in two. Military checkpoints prevent Tarek from ever again making the journey from his home in Muslim West Beirut to that snobby, post-colonial school in the Christian East.
For Tarek and friend Omar (Mohamad Chamas), it’s initially a lark: These hormone-charged, flare-wearing teens use the free time to dig for disco LPs, spy on girls, eat falafel, shoot Super 8 films and befriend a sultry Christian neighbor (Rola Al Amin), while gunshots, snipers and underground shelters punctuate life after dark.  
Politics are never far from the frame — “Since when has the West understood the East?” asks Tarek’s lovable father with weary pathos — but, at its core, “West Beirut” is a charming, almost-nostalgic, coming-of-age tale, told with a sharp comedic edge and a native’s feel for the thrum of the streets.
In perhaps the most telling scene, the morning after a violent bout of nocturnal shelling enterprising locals peddle replacement glass windows. The message of resilience is clear: with or without war, people grow up, grow old, fall in and out of love — the human tragedy, and joy, of life continues.


What We Are Reading Today: Explain Me This by Adele E. Goldberg

Updated 22 January 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Explain Me This by Adele E. Goldberg

  • Adele Goldberg explores how these creative but constrained language skills emerge from a combination of general cognitive mechanisms and experience

We use words and phrases creatively to express ourselves in ever-changing contexts, readily extending language constructions in new ways. Yet native speakers also implicitly know when a creative and easily interpretable formulation — such as “Explain me this” or “She considered to go” — doesn’t sound quite right. 

In this incisive book, Adele Goldberg explores how these creative but constrained language skills emerge from a combination of general cognitive mechanisms and experience.

Shedding critical light on an enduring linguistic paradox, Goldberg demonstrates how words and abstract constructions are generalized and constrained in the same ways, according a review on the Princeton University Press website. When learning language, we record partially abstracted tokens of language within the high-dimensional conceptual space that is used when we speak or listen. Our implicit knowledge of language includes dimensions related to form, function, and social context.