The Last Home Movie“The people appearing in this film have done so at considerable risk to themselves and without foreknowledge of, or control over, how they would be portrayed.” So reads the opening frames of the documentary Beirut: The Last Home Movie. What the people in the film have truly risked, according to this reviewer, is having their lives presented in such a ploddingly mind-numbing way that audiences cease to be interested in what they have to say.

Filmed during the Lebanese Civil War, director Jennifer Fox’s award-winning documentary follows three months in the lives of an aristocratic family who choose to remain in their mansion in downtown Beirut, even while the city is being blown apart around them. Though it won the prestigious Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, there’s just something lacking in the film’s presentation. Maybe it’s a film about elites made specifically for elites that leaves the rest of us out in the cold. Whatever it is, the endless ramblings of the Bustros family grow increasingly dull as the film plays out.

Who would think that occasional shots of a war-torn city would serve as a welcome departure from the action of a documentary’s story? Typically such shots are more painful to watch and leave viewers with a profound sense of the true nature of war and its effects. And the harrowing shots of tanks, soldiers, and even a close-up on a dead body, does leave the viewer uncomfortable, but In Beirut: The Last Home Movie, watching the Bustros family sit around in their living room endlessly discussing the history of their house and their feelings on marriage is just a bit more painful and self-indulgent.

Though other reviewers can’t seem to sing its praises highly enough, stating that it “reveals the power of cinema verité at its best: a seemingly simple recording of everyday life becomes a fascinating, complex and many-layered look at the connections between personal and political lives.” this reviewer has to politely bow out and admit that this film did not seem to accomplish such lofty goals. Though sporadically enjoyable, as a whole, this 120 minute narrative slice-of-life feels more like what its title suggests: a home movie. As a documentary, it’s almost too pretentious to endure. Perhaps it’s the shoddy sound, leaving speakers voices slightly muffled and difficult to understand, or the poor film quality, but Beirut: the Last Home Movie just doesn’t live up to expectations set by a slew of recent documentaries.

Zach’s Rating: D+
Sundance Film Festival’s rating: A
Documentary film fanatic’s rating: B

To purchase Beirut: The Last Home Movie, visit Arab Film Distribution

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