Expired June 4, 2022 6:59 AM
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Content warning: Please be aware that this film contains racial and other slurs as well as depictions of war, violence and death.

During the civil war, many elites fled the country for safe harbor in Europe’s capitals, leaving behind apartments and villas in the care of domestic labor imported from Egypt, the Philippines and Sri-Lanka. These stories of survival have never been recorded, let alone inspired a fiction film. With scathing humor, Civilized People draws the portrait of a war-tormented Beirut neighborhood, at the mercy of the mood swings of a sniper. The plot weaves the tribulations of a Muslim militia fighter and a Christian maid, with the misadventures of a high-society lady who, undaunted by checkpoints and shelling, decides to fly back for a tryst with her lover. Civilized People premiered at Venice (official selection); it screened and at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the Nestor Almendros award (New York, 2000). The film's sharp critique of Lebanese elites created an uproar in Lebanon, and was banned from being screened.

About the filmmaker:

Randa Chahal was a film director and screenwriter born in Lebanon who lived in Paris, France.

After the war erupted in 1975, the young Randa Chahal returned to Lebanon on several occasions, after studying at the prestigious Louis Lumière school in Paris. Camera in hand, she tirelessly documented the war and the deserted streets of Beirut combining fearless engagement with political criticism. 

Step by Step describes the ramifications of the civil war in Lebanon and Our Reckless Wars is a crude story about the involvement of her family during the civil war, a work that Jean Luc Godard cites in his Histoire(s) du Cinéma.

As with other filmmakers of her generation, the civil war imposed the documentary format on Randa Chahal Sabbag. However, she was also a film aficionado and an outstanding storyteller nonetheless, as is evident in her works of fiction. Dealing with the absurdity of a civil war as well as unique stories of characters that are profoundly human, her fiction films are tinted with fierce humor and an incredible sense of freedom.

In 1992, she directed her first feature Sand Screens, followed by the stinging Civilized People in 2000 and The Kite in 2003, that won her the Grand Jury Prize (Silver Lion) at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival and the medallion for Officer of the National Order of the Cedar.

Randa Chahal Sabbag will continue to work and film between Beirut and Paris, writing and developing many scripts and projects. These films where nothing but the beginning of the work of a filmmaker that left us too soon. In 2008, Olivia Snaije writes in the British newspaper The Guardian in homage to the recent passing of the filmmaker: “Chahal’s premature death leaves a void in the Middle Eastern world of film, where freedom of expression requires boundless courage and tenacity.

  • Year
  • Runtime
    97 minutes
  • Language
    Arabic, French
  • Country
  • Director
    Randa Chahal
  • Producer
    Daniel Toscan Du Plantier, Euripide Productions
  • Cast
    Carmen Lebbos, Renee Dick, Myrna Maakaron, Tamim Chahal, Paul Mattar, Hassan Mrad, Hassan Farhat
  • Cinematographer
    Ricardo Jacques Gale, Roby Breidy
  • Editor
    Juliette Weifling
  • Music
    Ziad Rahbani