Snatching trophies in festivals and eventually ending up in Montreal’s FNC, Miguel’s War is about the real places where its titular subject Michel Jlielaty lived. Those places include his new home in Barcelona and his birthplace in Beirut. He has ambivalent feelings about returning to the latter. It’s also about theoretical places like a Christian heaven where his parents are looking down on him. Angry that he’s getting their story wrong. Or that they’re supporting characters in the story of their son.
That son grew up to be a gay man who has ambivalent feelings. Jlielaty was, after all, a half-Syrian boy in Lebanon during the 80s. Back then, both countries were at war. For the purposes of the documentary, they’re casting people to play his family and his lovers. The only character he can’t cast is his mother, a struggle the documentary portrays in poppy ways. There are other aspects of Miguel’s War that are inherently fascinating, but the play within a documentary gives it a maximalist feel and the approach to that ethos works so well. Most don’t expect this documentary to start crazy.
Since it does start crazy, the second expectation is that it will just get crazier. In a sense, maybe that’s correct. But the documentary actually gets simpler as it cruises to its more than two hour running time. At the core of this is two friends reading each other and prodding each other. Jlielaty has convinced himself that he’s telling the truth while the director Eliane Raheb wants to “recall things accurately”. Uncovering that truth is difficult. That’s because his truth is just one of many existing within the wars that Lebanon fought. The documentary, thus, shows the right kind of tough love towards its equally fascinating subject.
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