“Never stand still in Beirut.”
German journalist Georg Laschen (Bruno Ganz) leaves behind his troubled marriage for Beirut, Lebanon to cover the outbreak of civil war in 1975. He arrives in a hotel full of other foreign journalists who’ve become used to the odd mortar hitting the building. The hotel is located in “No Man’s Land”–a zone in between Christian and Muslim fighting factions. Laschen is calmly told that most of the fighting takes place at night, but that during the days, it’s fairly quiet. Shortly after Laschen’s arrival, the country explodes into civil war.
As the danger intensifies, Laschen and his photographer, Hoffman (Jerzy Skolimowski) take to the streets and pass through the zones of various fighting factions. At each checkpoint, chaos reigns–people are summarily rounded up and executed, and the bodies of the victims burned to hide the carnage. Laschen and Hoffman pass unscathed through scenes of death and destruction, while those a few feet away are coldly murdered. Both men feel the elation of a facade of invulnerability, and they begin to take more risks. The film assumes a surreal element as fighters on all sides vacillate between wanting photos taken of their deeds and not wanting any evidence left behind. As insanity reigns in Beirut, entrepreneurs sell weapons to the highest bidders and rival papers bid on grisly photos.
Meanwhile, war is good business for the journalists fortunate enough to be on the spot. A party atmosphere reigns at the hotel, and as Hoffman notes to Laschen “we both feed our families from this kind of event.” Laschen begins his assignment with the agenda of recording whatever he sees, but he finds it increasingly difficult to remain emotionally apart from the atrocities taking place around him. He seeks out Ariana (Hanna Schygulla) a fellow German who has chosen to remain in Beirut
Directed by Volker Schlondorff, Circle of Deceit captures the beginning of an important piece of history–the Lebanese Civil War–while exploring the inhumanity of war–and those who provide coverage for the rest of the world. The voyeuristic element of the journalist’s job becomes a moral question for Laschen as he witnesses the carnage of Beirut. Circle of Deceit is in German, French and English with English subtitles.