This is an extraordinary movie, a little like a more cynical Killing Fields, or a less plot-driven Quiet American. A German journalist with marital problems is sent to cover the war in Lebanon. The film was shot primarily in Beirut, during the civil war, and the location shooting does a ton of the work.
This is a story that has been told many times: a European journalist in a foreign war zone – a war zone where the war is the end result of European colonialism – struggling to cope with what he sees. But the approach here is different. For one thing, we see the bad home life, which is often more of a backstory element in these films. But, perhaps more importantly, this film is extremely episodic. Well, episodic may not be the right word since the film takes place over the course of about a week. But it’s a little impressionistic – we jump from scene to scene and time to time with little regard to conventional narrative building. The film feels almost like the memories of the main character, rather than a narrative experience. That’s not to say it’s super unconventional – it only jumps around in time and place a little bit and it’s pretty damn clear what’s going on – only that there is no driving plot, unlike with The Quiet American or The Killing Fields, the movie’s two most obvious comparables.
Ganz is excellent and helps sell a character who could easily come across as obnoxious. If you don’t know Ganz, he’s one of the great German actors of his generation and this is one of the films that likely solidified that reputation. His character does some strange shit in this movie, but you never question Ganz’s performance. (And, frankly, characters like this are passe in 2020, to put it mildly, so I can definitely see him rubbing you the wrong way.)
I can’t say the same for the entire cast, particular the photographer, who is pretty awful in English and not much better in German. Of course, if you cast locals, you’re going to get some wooden performances. It’s funny that the worst one comes from the German supporting actor.
My biggest problem with the film is what happens in the climax, where there is an allusion I find problematic. I get that it’s sort of the point, but I still think it could have been omitted.
Still, in terms of ‘western journalists in foreign wars’, this is among the better ones.