If you check the ‘World Cinema’ section of most DVD stores around the world, you’ll probably find a copy of Nadine Labaki’s Caramel on display, and if the managers really knows their stuff, you may even find Ziad Doueiri’s West Beirut. But what other Lebanese films can you name? Here are five films you should know about, three of which, you can watch online for free (if your connection lets you):

Kafr Kassem (1973/5) by Borhane Alaouié

Borhane Alaouié is probably better known for his films about wartime and post-war Beirut: Beyroutu El-Lika’ (1981) and Khallass (2007). His very first film, however, was about an infamous massacre in Palestine. The film took part in the 1975 Moscow Film Festival, where it won an award and, interestingly enough, was listed as a Syrian film.

The film features Hebrew dialogue, and in this version, French subtitles, so you’re out of luck in some scenes if you can’t speak either (I said “for free,” not “conveniently”).

Hors La Vie (1991) by Maroun Bagdadi

Maroun Bagdadi was a prolific filmmaker who passed away in the early 90s at the young age of 43. He was probably best known for Les Petites Guerres (1982). Hors La Vie is an emotional and complex portrayal of a French photographer kidnapped during the Civil War. Unfortunately, this version is mostly dubbed in Italian, but many scenes leave the Arabic dialogue untranslated. The film is gripping, even in Italian.

Taleen a Jnoub (1993) by Jayce Salloum and Walid Raad

This film, which can be viewed in its entirety here, explores the complexities of the politics and culture of ‘resistance’ in the South, and is still fascinating to watch ten years later. Luckily for us, Salloum has also uploaded many of his other works, so there’s plenty to watch on his Vimeo account.

Once Upon A Time: Beirut (1994) by Jocelyne Saab

Jocelyne Saab is another prolific veteran of Lebanese cinema (and television) still making films, her latest being What’s Going On? (2009). Kan Ya Makan Beirut, or Once Upon A Time: Beirut sounds like a great film for lovers of film, but unfortunately, it’s nowhere to be found online (if your google-fu is better than man, then please post a link in the comments). For a brainy description of the movie -- and an in-depth discussion of some of the films mentioned here too -- read this essay from ‘Invisible Culture.’ Here’s an extract of dialogue from the Once Upon A Time: Beirut, as quoted in that essay:

“Beirut, the pearl of the Middle East, hidden in the blue casket of the Mediterranean. Lebanon, the Switzerland of the Orient. A haven of peace in the heart of a tumultuous region. Beirut, a cosmopolitan city where East meets West. That’s all we’ve managed to come up with, on our city, Mr. Farouk. A head-spinning series of clichés.”

I dare say: little has changed in 2014...

Beyrouth Fantôme (1998) by Ghassan Salhab

Like Jocelyne Saab, Ghassan Salhab is also still making films, his latest being The Mountain (2010). Beyrouth Fantôme, or Ashbah Bayrut, was his first and probably most well known film. It’s not online, but here’s a trailer, and trailers for his other films are available on YouTube as well.

As you can see, Beyrouth Fantôme is very somber, like everything else on this list (sorry). Click here to watch a short tribute to Salhab named after this movie, and made by another icon of the Lebanese art scene, Jalal Toufic. And, to lighten your mood a little, watch this silly mockumentary featuring Salhab, wonderfully titled: It Came from Al-Makab or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love this City.

BONUS ROUND DING DING DING: You can watch Caramel and West Beirut online too! Enjoy!

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