The opening shot of this movie stands for the whole. It begins with the director filming her baby daughter in the hospital, playing with her as the baby tries to chew her own feet, when suddenly BANG! and she’s up and carrying the baby out the room, a friend takes her and yells, “Get downstairs!” as the hallway fills with smoke and soot, she grabs at others, helping them, as their feet go downstairs, across rumble, into the wards, where children lie on the floor, wounded and dying, and she loses sight of her friend and cries out, “Where’s Sama?!”, and the light goes out and the machines beep and the doctors have to manually ventilate patients, and in the darkness she cries, “Where’s Sama?!”, and down into the basement, through the crowd of frightened and disoriented people looking for shelter, pushing through them, she cries, “Where’s Sama?!” and then suddenly she sees her, being bounced on her friend’s lap, gurgling, smiling up when she sees her mother, like nothing is wrong.
This film is incredible and everyone should see it as soon as you can. Heartbreaking, inspiring, enraging and hopeful, I gret until it felt like my eyes were burning. Everyone in the audience was crying. It is a film of cracked open raw humanity.
The film takes the form of a letter from the director to her newborn daughter, Sama. She tells Sama, this is the story of you, and why your life is the way it is, and the decisions me and your father made that led to things being this way. The film primarily takes place across the first year of Sama’s life as her father, a doctor, struggles to keep going what becomes the last remaining hospital in east Aleppo, and her mother, a journalist, tries to document the struggle for freedom from the Assad regime.
It does flash back at points to before her birth to tell how her parents met at university, an ordinary story, and took part in the peaceful protests of the Arab Spring. They were so convinced that, like Tunisia and Egypt, with only some pushback from security forces, the huge numbers of their movement would prevail, and the regime would crumble.
In 2016, the view is not so bright, as Aleppo comes under seige. Realisation starts to dawn that they are no longer an uprising against a regime, but just civilians being slaughtered in a pen. They aren’t going to win. And into this Sama is born. And the story becomes one of hope in the darkest of times. Of what we live for. Of what’s worth dying to give our children.
This is a profoundly moving film, that you will never forget. Please go see it when it’s out on general release next week at the GFT.