Films about war and separation have almost become a quiet subgenre of cinema. Whether it’s the pain of separating from one’s family, lover or even country, filmmakers have a tendency of effectively conveying this unfortunate byproduct of war. In 1982, Oualid Mouaness crafts a beautiful tale of impending separation primarily through the innocent lens of children. It’s an impressive feature film debut that certainly cements his status as a talent to watch for.
Set in war-torn Beirut on the last day of school in the year 1982, the film mainly takes place within the confines of an elementary school. We’re introduced to the 11 year-old protagonist, Wissam, who grapples with the pressure of professing his love to another classmate on the final school day of the year. Playground drama ensues as we’re introduced to other children in the classroom, while on a more macroscopic level, the Israeli invasion of Beirut is overtly palpable in the background. Nadine Labaki anchors the film as one of the school’s teachers, who as a group, are much more preoccupied with this war-driven reality engulfing their homeland. But as the war wages on throughout the film, this becomes a reality that everyone, regardless of age, is forced to face.
By presenting most of the film from the perspective of children, and inundating the storyline with infantile issues at its core, Mouaness creates a flexible narrative that forces its audience to empathize with how children experience an impending war. Their innocence and lack of awareness protect them in some ways, but also give them strength when the inevitable awareness becomes a reality. What’s remarkable about this film is that the children, no matter how trivial their issues seem on the surface, are depicted with a sense of respect. When the war draws closer to the schoolyard, both their fears and even courageousness are painted with a stroke of maturity, as opposed to the usual default of weakness that tends to be the norm for children in these types of films.
The child actors in 1982 all bring great performances to the film, with a script that has more nuanced subtleties than you would normally expect. And as always, Nadine Labaki is outstanding, and her presence as the nurturing teacher (and family member) brings a sense of comfort not only to the film’s characters, but to the audience as well.
At its core, 1982 is a film about how war can ravage our sense of innocence in a second. But it also takes the time to establish strength in this loss of innocence, which is unique when it comes to films about children during wartimes. This is an impressive feature film debut from Mouaness, who already has an impressive resume of prolific music videos to his name. By choosing to tackle a story that was based off of his own personal experiences during that time period, he had a huge weight on his shoulders, but managed to make a lot of heavy lifting seem effortless.