The Boy from Lebanon

The Boy from Lebanon is a thought-provoking and intense depiction of a true story, a plot by Hezbollah to assassinate then-president François Mitterand by using a child. It’s one of the most striking foreign films I’ve seen in the last few years, and it far surpasses “Syriana” in showing how rather ordinary young people become terrorists. But The Boy from Lebanon is a more than a mere consciousness-raiser about the plight of children in war-torn areas—it’s a shocking drama, and an wonderful portrayal of the power of friendship.

Djilali (Teufik Jallab) is a scant eleven years old when he’s sold—literally—into terrorism. Djilali is emotionally shattered, detached, and empty. Even his hatred of “the Jews and the infidels” is something he holds out of duty, and his lack of emotion and whole-hearted dedication to his mission makes him ideal for Hezollah’s purpose.

To get close to the French president, though, he must not only go to France, but meet and prepare to take the place of Karim (Younesse Boudache), a Lebanese-French kid who will meet the president at a Christmas party. Karim, who knows nothing of the plot, is practically Djilali’s direct opposite, an ebullient Huckleberry Finn of Paris’ Arab slums, who hates no one.

To play his role, Djilali must live with Karim for a few days, and the interaction between them is the heart of the film. Djilali regards Karim as despicably frivolous, while Karim sees Djilali as hopelessly out-of-it. The few days they spend together will shatter both of their worlds completely.

Sometimes it gets a bit confusing; shifts between Karim’s French slum and Djilali’s flashbacks are difficult to catch at first, and in my case I had to watch it a second time to understand everything. In addition, the adult actors are sometimes less-than-convincing, but The Boy from Lebanon isn’t about them. The main characters are memorable and masterfully portrayed by these child actors. The director, Gilles de Maistre, is an award-winning French journalist, who presents the characters compassionately, along with a side of Paris that most movies assiduously avoid.

My teacher commented on the Virginia Tech massacre with the observation that Seung-Hui Cho had had no friends, and wondered would he have done what he did if he had. A similar question is brilliantly posed by “The Boy from Lebanon.”

Watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

4 thoughts on “The Boy from Lebanon

  1. This is interesting. You had me confused for bit. I never heard of the title “The Boy from Lebanon” but I did recognize the picture. Some googling cleared the confussion. It’s called “Killer Kid” in Europe. Did you say a while ago that Europe is truely different? No it isn’t. This film was well received in Cannes and the few ratings I’ve seen are all 4 stars out of 5, but it was ignored by the main movie theaters. It was shown as “arthouse” in small theaters in 1994/1995. I’m actually very interested in seeing it, but I can’t find a Dutch (or French) online store selling it!!
    The only sites openly discussing it are a couple of Belgian secondary school (high school) sites.
    Some denial going on here, me thinks. 🙁

  2. Margreet, unfortunately, it was also released here as “Killer Kid” originally. I walked by it on the shelf many times, turned off by that awful title. When it was retitled “The Boy from Lebanon,” I gave it a shot.

    Picture This! distributes it in the US and Canada, but it’s not on their list of the films they can distribute to Europe. I tried looking up sites for Canal+Productions and Flache Films, but couldn’t find any… has several other European companies listed in the country credits… maybe one of them will be the key to finding it in Europe.

    I checked Netflix, but wasn’t sure if it can be downloaded to Belgium… you might want to check that a little more deeply.

    Sorry it’s so hard to come by.

  3. It’s a very fine film, thanks to the three child actors (Agatha de la Fontaine was practically a child then herself), and quite good direction. Presumably it cannot be widely distributed, because the nasty head terrorist-trainer employed by Hezbollah is a German Nazi holdover who is AS outrageously AND graphically anti-Jewish as the “real deal” of such a trainer undoubtedly would have to be. This makes the humanity and superior morality of the three children all the more brilliant, magnificent, and touching.
    (By the way, Agatha subsequently appeared in “Train of Life,” sort of a French answer to “Fiddler on the Roof,” updated to WW II, profoundly humanistically pro-Jewish culture. Hopefully that made her box-office-able.)

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