Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. Denmark/Syria, 2017. Aleppo Media Center, Larm Film, Kloos & Co. Medien GmbH, Danish Film Institute, AFAC – The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Cinereach, IDFA BERTHA Fund, International Documentary Association, Sundance Institute Documentary Fund. Screenplay by Feras Fayyad. Cinematography by Mujahed About Al Joud, Fadi Al Halabi, Hassan Kattan, Thaer Mohamed. Produced by Kareem Abeed, Soeren Steen Jespersen, Stefan Kloos. Music by Karsten Fundal. Film Editing by Michael Bauer, Steen Johannessen. Academy Awards 2017. Independent Spirit Awards 2017.
The city of Aleppo has a rapidly dwindling population thanks to people dying in bombings or survivors heading for the border. Left in the city are those who won’t or can’t leave, among them the White Helmets, rescue workers who engage in the daily struggle of using what few resources they have to save people from the wreckage of bombed out buildings and, where possible, provide medical care. The man featured in very famous footage from a few years ago (featured in the Netflix documentary on the White Helmets), in which a baby was rescued still alive from the rubble, is among the individuals focused on in this excellent film, seen here greatly changed by stress and fatigue and doing his best to raise his (very adorable) children under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Scenes of intense violence and carnage are not for the faint of heart, but it’s also essential viewing for everyone who is lucky enough to not have to live this horror in person. The idea that there are cinematographers out there who are willing to stand in the middle of all this destruction and remain sanguine enough to keep their cameras rolling is amazing; the humanity of the people sacrificing so much of the personal safety and peace of mind to help others is awe-inspiring. Directors Feras Fayyad and Steen Johannessen manage to put an emphasis on the harsh realities of this city’s current situation without being pornographic, there is always a sense of personality and connection to every devastation and not just unemotional images of injured and dead bodies. The scene where the city’s families try to give their children a day at an amusement park might just be the defining illustration of how perverse the situation is for people who cannot escape this unending tragedy.