For Sama review

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A haunting, brilliant documentary that’s now in UK cinemas, here’s our review of For Sama.

Certificate: 18
Directors: Waad Al-Khateab, Edward Watts
Cast: Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama AlKhateab, Waad Al-Khateab

For Sama is a documentary that feels like no other, and for that reason alone it feels like it needs to come with an explicit warning. That’s because the film, the winner of the Golden Eye documentary prize at Cannes, contains truly harrowing images. The kind of images that defy you to look away and haunt you for long after. Any notion of understanding you have of life in Syria, and the conflict within it, will be crushed within minutes of watching.

The point of view of the documentary is that of Waad Al-Khateab. At the start, she is a soon to-be-finishing student in Aleppo at the beginning of a revolution. What she shows over the course of the next five years of her life isn’t for us. It’s for her daughter, Sama. The documentary is a love letter to her daughter, with Waad explaining why she and her husband stayed in a city that faced daily cataclysmic conflict. She describes why they didn’t flee for safety and abandon the city for which they scarified so much.

The impossible nature of this choice, and the obvious unfathomable amount of internal turmoil this caused Waad, is apparent throughout the documentary. Her footage shows the conflict in its rawest and truest form. We are shown the needless death and destruction. Waad couldn’t shy away from it and neither can we, no matter how brutal and devastating it is to watch. The horrific nature of this imagery cannot be overemphasised. Waad shows us things many of us could never imagine, things that don’t make it into our news. This is war in its truest horror, with its countless innocents and irreversible damage.

The potency of this is enhanced by using juxtaposition: life, of a sort, carries on with this as its backdrop. There is love and laughter, moments of joy that are all too frequently curtailed or shattered by brutality. We witness moments that are familiar and universal, from kids’ parties and weddings to simple friendly hangouts, amongst unimaginable trauma. It makes for a watch that is all the more shattering.

With this documentary, Waad gives a voice to those displaced and wounded by war, those who are usually muted by mainstream press, in a manner that is both intimate and epic. A stunning piece of work.

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