fri 24/05/2024

Nezouh review - seeking magic in a war | reviews, news & interviews

Nezouh review - seeking magic in a war

Nezouh review - seeking magic in a war

A movie that looks on the dreamier side of Syrian strife

Should I stay or should I go: Nizar Alani and Hala Zein in Soudade Kaadan’s ‘Nezouh’

The 21st century learnt afresh about the reality of carpet-bombed cities thanks to the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011. And the Syrian war-set movie Nezouh begins with a teenage girl huddled in a tight, enclosed space – perhaps the bunk bed of an underground shelter – fervently scratching some message of distress or emblem of yearning on a piece of board.

Maybe we’re in a fictional version of the chilling Syria siege documentary The Cave from 2019. But moments later the girl, named Zeina, jumps out of bed to help her dad in the sun-lit living room of their comfortable Damascus flat. Several storeys up, Zeina and her parents cling to precarious middle-class normality as their world, and most of the buildings around them, collapse under the caress of explosives.

They might be a little like the Frank family in Amsterdam of the 1940s, save that the dad has a seriously naive view of how property should weigh when placed in the scale against survival. After a bomb carves a hole in the roof and blows out walls, he stubbornly resists flight – or the “displacement” that the movie’s title refers to. That turfing-out would, to him, be the death of everything he holds dear, namely a comfortable flat in Damascus.

So he pins up flowered sheets over the gaping holes, and the family – Samir Almasri who plays Motaz the dad, Kinda Alloush as Hala the mum, and Hala Zein who plays Zeina – enter into a bitter-witty chamber drama which is the push and pull of any family, heightened just a tad by the tumbling munitions all about them.

This second feature by Soudade Kaadan – who went through similar Damascus days herself – is keen to keep the mood relatively upbeat. In several sequences, Zeina hauls herself onto the roof to hang out blissfully with a boy called Amer (Nizar Alani), who’s just enough on the ball to pique her romantic interest. The family’s curious, half-clouded idyll comes to an end thanks to the antics of Motaz – a dunderhead domestic autocrat who’s familiar, it has to be said, from any number of dramas about Islamic fathers – as Hala and Zeina flee across the ruined suburbs towards sympathetic rebel groups, as if in some post-apocalypse sci-fi. (Our family presumably oppose the Assad regime, though politics are not discussed.)

 Kaadan’s earlier film, The Day I Lost My Shadow (2018), also focused on the Syrian conflict and was more about “trauma”, she has said. This one is said to be about “hope”, and squaring the circle of that theme and its setting means that tonally and visually the movie skids about a little at times. (The film was mostly shot in Turkey with funding from Britain, where Kadaan is now based.) It’s anchored by outstanding performances from the four main actors.

For all their firmer grasp of reality, Hala and Zeina are both dreamers in their own ways, with water images at the forefront of their fantasies. Trying to do “magical realism” in movies – that is, both sides of that formula in the same film – is usually a tall order, but Kaadan has a half-jocular sense of abandon and goes for it anyway amid the dust and explosions. And why not have shots of levitation and bedsheets flailing in the hot air if they call to mind moments from Gabriel García Márquez?

Several storeys up, the family cling to precarious middle-class normality

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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