“1982,” the first feature from Oualid Mouaness, is inspired by the director’s memories of having his classroom life suddenly interrupted by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that year. The film takes place at a school in East Beirut over a single day that begins quietly enough, although the first sound we hear is of rumbling planes. A fifth-grader, Wissam (Mohamad Dalli), slips an anonymous love note into the locker of Joanna (Gia Madi), a girl he likes from West Beirut, the mainly Muslim half of the city.
As the fighting grows closer, culminating in an evacuation while Israeli and Syrian planes clash overhead, the characters show differing levels of awareness. Wissam’s best friend, Majid (Ghassan Maalouf), knows enough to warn a teacher that windows should stay open to reduce the risk of shattered glass — but is also enthused when told that school the next day will be canceled. For the children, the drama over the letter’s provenance is important. The adults, particularly two teachers (Nadine Labaki and Rodrigue Sleiman) whose romance has been strained by political arguments, engage in their own forms of denial. They’re skeptical that violence will reach East Beirut or that it’s time for students to stop their exams and leave.
Working with a shrewdly limited setting, Mouaness skillfully gives the film a near-real-time feel, conveying a sense that the war is approaching through small-scale details like radio broadcasts, Wissam’s observation that pigeons have flown unusually close to the school and the volume and frequency of aerial noise. The filmmaker also mostly dodges the potential preciousness that comes with telling a story from a child’s perspective, even if a handful of animated sequences are a bit too cute.
Not rated. In Arabic and English, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. In theaters.