COSTA BRAVA, LEBANON – Review by Lois Alter Mark

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Let’s talk trash. In Costa Brava, Lebanon, the excellent feature film debut from director Mounia Akl, Beirut has become a “living hell” due, in part, to its garbage crisis. So, to make it look like they’re actually taking care of the situation, the authorities decide to create a landfill. Their location of choice happens to be the land that’s adjacent to the private property of the Badri family, who has been happily living off the grid for the past eight years.

Walid (Saleh Bakri) had moved to the mountains with his wife, Soraya (Nadine Labaki), a former singer, and their now 17-year-old daughter, Tala (Nadia Charbel) for a better life absent of the city’s pollution and political corruption. Their younger daughter, Rim (show stealers Ceana and Geana Restom), has only known this idyllic home. She is used to her freedom and is as keenly aware of her surroundings as a wild animal in its natural habitat. She hangs on her father’s every word and is told by her grandmother, who moved in with the family when she got sick, to “stop taking life so seriously.”

But that’s hard for a little girl to do when her life is changing so drastically. The authorities promise that the landfill will be green and environmentally friendly but a dump by any other name is still a dump. It’s not long before the blue plastic garbage bags start piling up and the family’s water turns blood red. The toxicity starts to spread throughout the family, as well.

The movie beautifully explores each individual’s feelings and the changing dynamics between the characters. Although its environmental issues are always present, Akl has chosen to focus instead on how they affect the family emotionally. This was a wise and interesting choice. Although Walid and Soraya were activists who met during a protest, they are, above all, everyday people whose story is universal and easily relatable.

As tensions mount, the question becomes: Should they stay or should they go? It’s a question that’s been asked by probably hundreds of thousands of people from Love Canal to Chernobyl.

Costa Brava, Lebanon is a thoughtful and compassionate portrait of a family caught up in an environmental crisis caused by its corrupt government. After a week in which our own Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the planet, it seems sadly fitting to see that no matter how hard you try to avoid your country’s garbage, it literally ends up right at your front door.

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Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning writer who reviews films on Midlife at the Oasis. A former contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade, she also reviewed films for for many years. She is a member of San Diego Film Critics Society and tweets from @loisaltermark. She writes about travel for USA Today and Forbes.