His film In This House, 2005 records the search in the garden of a house in southern Lebanon for a letter encased and buried there by a former National Front resistance fighter who had occupied the house in the early 1980s. The split-screen format presents, on one side, the resistance member—now a respected photo-journalist—telling the story of his experience in the house and on the other side, the digging up of the garden and the eventual discovery of the canister containing the letter. The running table of text that accompanies the unfolding narrative identifies the owners of the house and a host of security agents who oversee the operation and whose faces, we are told, are not to be filmed. The anxiety about who or what is allowed to be caught on film together with their growing excitement as the letter is unearthed connotes the poignant tension of a country in a constant state of deferral; the dilemma of whether it is better to unpack the still unresolved consequences of events from the past or to simply carry on, and leave them buried.
Zaatari’s description of works such as In This House as interventions is telling. Drawing on documentary methods, he produces a physical but also psychological impact on the people and places involved. For the present owners of the house where the buried letter from a still reticent period of the civil war was found, their perception has been changed by this freshly uncovered knowledge. More recently, Zaatari’s style has moved on from the more straight, if not slightly reflexive, reportage of All is Well and of In This House to that of constructing of a scenario to which real-life characters respond. His film Nature Morte, 2008, is an intimate portrait of two men intent on the task of making a bomb. Filmed in a cabin interior, its painterly chiaroscuro is lent by the burning gas lamp which provides the principle light source, the only sounds accompanying their task those of the call to prayer from a distant mosque. It is into the crisp air of a rugged hillside that the two men part company at the end of the film, one equipped with a backpack presumably carrying the explosive device.
Subtitles:hard English for the Arabic