“He is my son. This is my love.” says a mother as she carries her young son, killed by an air strike. He was taken by his brothers to the makeshift hospital that Hamza, the husband of journalist and a writer/director Waad Al-Khateab has established in Aleppo during the siege of 2016.
Waad had been filming Aleppo and its people for the years she had been at its University. We see the start of the rebellion against the dictatorial regime of President Bashar al-Assad; university students painting on walls about freedom, families walking through the streets with flags and banners. You can see the optimism on their faces, the knowledge of their right to be heard.
And then the airstrikes begin, the regime supported by Russian military that drops every sort of bomb on the rebels who have congregated in the east of the city. They target hospitals and Hamza’s basement hospital is the only one of nine left standing. Waad’s gaze is often unflinching and we see blood and death, pain and despair. Children are carried in bloody and weeping. Dead bodies line the floor.
Framed around a message for Waad and Hamza’s baby daughter, Sama, born during the siege, Waad weaves a personal thread of narrative that touches on her and Hamza’s reasons for staying when they could have fled and the regrets she does and doesn’t have. The footage is varied, from phone and surveillance camera to drone footage of the destroyed city. It is deeply moving, humanising the glimpses of stories we have seen on news reports or in newspapers.
What makes watching so gripping is not knowing who might survive. We know Waad does but see enough tragic death to understand there are no guarantees. It seems impossible to watch this film and then walk out feeling that your own problems have any significance.
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