Tuesday, September 16, 2008

War as a Movie Set

It's hard to tell where fiction ends and reality begins in the Sundance film, "Under the Bombs," by French-Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi. (A story about the film will air in the near future.

He made up the story about a woman looking for her son during the July 2006 bombing of Southern Lebanon and shot it in Southern Lebanon during and after the war.

He hired four actors. The supporting cast members were people just being themselves.

When a Lebanese woman says she left her children behind, she means it.

When another tells an actress her husband and her in-laws were killed, she means it.

The day after Israel and Hezbollah started exchanging fire and killing the Lebanese caught in the middle, Aractingi began throwing together a cast and crew.

He made up the script -- a combination of written words and improvisation -- as he went.

The day before Aractingi was going to shoot a scene in which the female lead finds out her sister was killed, he gave the script to his assistant to rewrite. Aractingi's Arabic is weak but the assistant was from Southern Lebanon and could lend authenticity to his words.

While she was translating the text she got a phone call from her mother saying her own village had been hit and her house there had been destroyed.

"So she starts crying for her own house while she is translating a script of a woman who is crying for her own house and for her sister," Aractingi said.

She completely rewrote the script.

"I'm sorry Philippe," she told him, he said. "I couldn't translate your text. I couldn't feel it. This is what I wrote."

Aractingi kept every word.

During the filming in the rubble of a destroyed village, an 18 year old who was acting as herself, tells the actress her fictional sister has died.

She does it by saying, "Your sister is in paradise."

"It was written by somebody who really lost her house and somebody was answering with her own words," Aractingi said.

The director says that teenager has lived through three wars and cannot see any future.

Two years after the bombing, he said, she still completely traumatized.

"A lot of people are traumatized still."

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