Most of us strive for happy lives that are filled with loving partners and family, satisfying work, and pleasant surroundings that meet both our physical and material needs. Many of us are successful in achieving these goals, but unimagined forces can bring the fulfilling lives we work so hard to achieve crashing down around us. It is this erosion of normal lives and social connections that French Lebanese director and co-screenwriter Chloé Mazlo explores in her tribute to her parents and their home country in Skies of Lebanon.
In this, her first feature film, Mazlo presents the courtship and marriage of Alice (Alba Rohrwacher) and Joseph Kamar (Wajdi Mouawad), a Swiss visual artist and a Lebanese rocket scientist, respectively, as they create a lovely life for themselves in Beirut, once considered the Paris of the Middle East. Mazlo brings a sense of visual whimsy to their idyllic marriage as she leans on her background as a graphic artist and animator, including the use of stop-motion animation, artificial scenery, and short cuts through time to signal the progression of their courtship, wedding, and burgeoning family. She even manages to maintain a comic regard for the combatants in the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990) that appear on the scene and disrupt life as usual in the worst possible ways.
Rohrwacher and Mouawad are mesmerizing as a couple whose world revolves around each other. Their powerful emotional connection provides us with a sense of safety in the midst of explosions, kidnappings, and armed intruders until they themselves wonder whether they have a future in the beloved country hey no longer recognize. Social breakdown and the insanity of war are timely subjects for many parts of the world. Skies of Lebanon suggests that love is the one thing to which those of us in dire straits can turn for solace and a way forward.