December 11, 2019 – This documentary film is a first-hand video account of life in Aleppo, Syria, at the very heart of the civil war. This is basically a very good home movie, filmed and directed (with some professional help, including that of her award-winning co-director Edward Watts) by videographer-turned-journalist Waad Al-Khateab. It follows her life through five turbulent years, along with the uprising in Aleppo from its high-spirited beginnings to its tragic conclusion.
This movie is one of several similar films, such as “The Cave” and “Nowhere to Hide,” to come out of the Middle East in recent years, documenting massive events on an intimate scale. They are made possible by the proliferation of small, portable video and audio recording equipment.
The movie begins with a harrowing scene inside an Aleppo hospital that is being bombed. It is the last hospital still functioning in Aleppo, under siege, in a small area surrounded by enemy forces. Repeated flashbacks take us back five years to the beginnings of what Waad Al-Khateab calls a revolution in Syria. There are people dancing and marching in the streets. Students at the University of Aleppo spray paint revolutionary slogans on a large wall.
The series of flashbacks continues to show how life in Aleppo deteriorates over time as the city is attacked by the Syrian Army, the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Air Force. Bombs and shells reduce the city to rubble. Residents flee to other countries.
Waad Al-Khateab remains in Aleppo until the end. In flashbacks, we witness her marriage to a doctor, Hamza, who is in charge of the last hospital in Aleppo. The other eight hospitals are bombed out of existence. We also witness the birth of her daughter, Sama (to whom this film is dedicated). The joy of her marriage and the birth of Sama serve as vivid counterpoints to the death and destruction of the war.
This movie contains vivid, graphic scenes of the injured, the dead and the dying. A woman, overcome with grief, carries her dead son out of the hospital. A man drags another along the floor of the hospital, leaving a bloody trail on the floor. There is blood everywhere in the overcrowded hospital after frequent bombing attacks in Aleppo. A counterpoint to that is an emotional scene where a wounded pregnant woman survives, along with her baby, born by emergency C-section in a makeshift hospital during an attack.
In the movie, Hamza is asked what he thinks about the hospital as he is being forced to leave. He says, “In this hospital, over 20 days, we performed 890 operations and we received over 6,000 wounded people. This is not about the place. Places are about their people ... like the hospital ...”. He pauses at that point and begins to cry.
One thing the movie makes clear is the love that Waad Al-Khateab and Hamza Al-Khateab both have for each other and for the city of Aleppo. They are forced to leave when the Syrian Army takes over the city, but they, and some of their friends, vow to return to the city someday. Their child, Sama, represents the future, a future that that includes Aleppo, they hope.
This movie isn't political, in the sense of the politics behind the revolution, or the Syrian government, or the Russians, or other nations. It doesn't get into politics other than to ask the question, why did the nations of the world stand by and do nothing as the men, women and children of Aleppo were being slaughtered?
Doing something would have been costly in terms of lives and treasure, but it is hard to imagine how it could be more than the cost of doing nothing. That cost is incalculable to Syria, Europe, the United States and other nations. A small part of that cost is seen in this movie of tragedies, misery and broken dreams. This is a very effective documentary film about this disaster of historical proportions. It rates a B+.
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