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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Set in Beirut between the 1950s and 1970s, Skies of Lebanon is based on the experiences of French filmmaker Chloé Mazlo’s grandparents. Grounded in reality and brought to life by playful images, vivid production design and occasional animation sequences, it is unconventional yet ambitious in what it sets out to achieve.
It is 1950 and newly-qualified nanny Alice, wants to travel far away from her stultifying home in Switzerland. She takes a job in Lebanon, and soon meets dashing rocket scientist Joseph with whom she settles down, and starts a family. Life is good until 1975 when the infamous civil war breaks out. The hostilities put pressure on the family and on the romance at the heart of this touching narrative.
Mazlo has chosen to make this film using a blend of theatrical techniques and stop-motion animation. Most of the background shots of Beirut are performed in front of stage-backdrops: Alice’s early life in Switzerland is entirely animated, the story of the war itself is told through theatrical and choreographed scenes, and the entire production design is deliberately given a slight air of unreality. This is all visually fascinating and is a clever way to tell this story by embracing rather than fighting against a tight budget.
Skies of Lebanon is whimsical, moving, and truly romantic. It is also a love letter to Lebanon itself, and particularly to Beirut as a beautiful city torn apart by conflict. Mazlo is unafraid to go to dark places with an unusual cache of filmic weapons as she paints a portrait of a war that feels like a vivid memory being lived in front of your eyes.