If you are looking for gratuitous expositions of the Syrian war this isn’t for you.
If however, you are looking for an in-depth and long-term study of how human beings driven by principle and humanity behave with integrity, in an absolute hell-hole that is East Aleppo, then it is.
It’s a heart-wrenching (but actually also heart-warming) exploration of what makes human beings, on the right side of the fence, great.
It’s set throughout the siege of Aleppo and follows the story of Waad Al-Khateab her daughter Sama and her husband (a doctor/surgeon/activist who runs an unofficial hospital) Hamza whom she meets, marries and has the aforementioned child, Sama, with during the documentary.
Waad films the proceedings, but the end product is a collaboration with co-director Edward Watts (who has several ISIS-based, and award winning, TV documentaries on his CV). Both deserve immense credit.
It’s essentially a love letter to Waad and Hamsa’s daughter, as Waad narrates her story of the battle to her daughter whilst showcasing the incredible humanitarian work of her fearless husband in conditions that are beyond credible.
ISIS targeted the hospitals of Aleppo (a HUGE city of 4.6 million inhabitants), systematically blowing them up and sending them underground into what look like unsanitary conditions but somehow seem to function throughout the siege. They are constantly bombed and on many occasions makeshift operating theatres become awash with blood.
The scenes of devastation that slowly unfold in the last few weeks of Aleppo’s intolerable siege are quite horrendous. We are talking about a blitz here – and the city becomes a shell, very reminiscent of both London and Dresden in WWII.
And yet, life goes on. Despite the torture, and the many deaths that we graphically witness, there is a strong sense of defiance and just getting on with it. (Keep Calm and Carry On.)
One scene, in particular, when we witness the birth of a, perhaps, still born baby is so deeply distressing that you will never forget the images. It’s mind-blowing.
This is a (very warped) joy of a film.
It’s not blessed with any frills AT ALL. No music, no SFX, nothing. Just a story that is devoid of schmaltz or emotional manipulation. It just says what it sees. It places not blame. It vilifies nobody.
But what emerges is a heroic culture that everyone should see.
Expect success in the next awards season.