Michel Kammoun turns in a freshly confident feature debut with Falafel, which won second prize at the recent Dubai International Film Festival late last year. Set during one night in present-day Lebanon - imagine an Arabic-language After Hours - it's funny and energetic, dispensing insights without preaching them.

Centred around a party which could almost be transposed to any big city, but turns out to be uniquely of the Lebanon, Falafel has a strong chance of being picked up by festivals and by an enterprising sales agent for limited, curiosity-value arthouse release.

Specialised television exposure - cable film, arts channels - seems a natural, given the interest level in the region among the politically-aware (although the country presented here is not one of international conflict: the film as shot before last summer's war).

More importantly, it marks out French-trained Kammoun - who has made some memorable shorts like Cathodique, Shadows, The Shower and Clowning Around/The Vanishing Rabbits - for greater things; as such Falafel could potentially have a longer shelf life than immediately seems apparent.

Tou (Elie Mitri), an easy-going twentysomething who still lives with his parents and younger brother, prepares for a night out with his friends and would-be girlfriend at an apartment in a nearby complex. But the evening takes him to places he had not imagined. While at first the action is light-hearted - involving alcohol, chat-up lines, a detour to a nightclub and a drunken friend who hilariously locks himself in the toilet - it abruptly takes a turn into chilling territory and suddenly the Lebanon becomes to look a much more dangerous place.

An audience favourite at Dubai, Falafel shows Lebanese cinema - currently experiencing all the problems to be expected in a country emerging from conflict - to be in energetic shape.

The problem with shooting a film in a place associated with war-torn headlines is that producers immediately look for the political angle; directors are attracted by it, as if there was no other life going on outside that arena; and audiences sit back and wait to be told something that illuminates the human condition on the political battlefield. It would be a nice surprise, for example, to see a soap opera set in current-day Baghdad or a love story unfold in Kabul without sight of an armoured tank.

Falafel is just that - a night out that just happens to take place in the Lebanon and which, it eventually transpires, could not play out properly anywhere else. Kammoun tells his story through tight and confident scripting, and the later darker tone is conveyed without him having to spell anything out, as what until then has been an easy-going meander for the audience suddenly turns into a more stressful experience.

Editing is sharp and the music is memorable for a low-budget (just under $1m) production. Elie Mitri, in the lead role, proves a deft piece of casting, able to command attention and carry the film throughout even when he is required to abruptly change tack.

Production companies/backers
Roy Films
Cine Sud Promotion
Fonds Sud
Agence Intergouvernementale De La Francophonie

International sales
c/o Roy Films
Michel Kammoun

Gladys Joujou

Production design
Pamela Ghanimeh

Toufic Farroukh

Main cast
Elie Mitri
Issam Bou Khaled
Michel El Hourany
Hiam Abou Chedid