TV-PG. Um...what? If there has ever been an argument that says "Questionable content v. Intended audience", it's this rating. Everyone should watch this movie. But that also being said, you see real death and real blood throughout the movie. It is a documentary about Aleppo under siege. There is constant, real-world violence around. There's a part where I was sure that a baby was dead. Like, it was one of the most tragic things that I've ever seen. That moment is so vital to the movie and it ripped my heart out, but I would never let my little kids see this movie until they are older. TV-PG is a really weird call for this movie.
DIRECTORS: Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts
It's getting to be insane that there's still information coming out of Aleppo. It's these documentaries that really frame my political beliefs. Like, I run hot about refugee issues and the bombing of civilians. I know, I'm clearly a hippie, right? [Glares angrily at imagined haters.] I might have a hard time writing about For Sama because I've just seen so many of these documentaries about Aleppo. My heart hasn't hardened, and thank God for that. But at the same time, I don't know what new insight that I can provide by watching these movies. The best takeaway that I can offer is that I hope that I can stop watching these documentaries because real change will have been made and that the world won't actually be a terrible place.
This year, there were two separate Aleppo documentaries: For Sama and The Cave. Of the two, the more effective one is For Sama. I haven't written about The Cave yet, but The Cave has moments, albeit few, that read a little artificial. For Sama reads like it was a documentary that happened to a documentarian. Because the documentarian is referred to as "Waad", I too will refer to her as "Waad" instead of "Al-Kateab". It's not a lack of respect, but simply because the movie established a precedent and I'd like to respect the wishes of the filmmaker. Waad presents a film that takes the documentary to a new level. Many of the films in the past have been documentarians going in and filming a specific subject matter. Most notably, documentaries have given attention to the White Helmets (The Last Men in Aleppo), which gives a context for people who actually should be there. But the question I always had was "Why would anyone else stay?"
Waad and her husband answer that question. It isn't the central question of the movie. The central question of the movie is why the attacks are coming, stressing the senselessness of war and the bombing. But because Waad and her husband are residents of Aleppo and because the documentarian herself is the subject of the film, we really get an understanding of why people would stay there. In some cases, some people refuse to leave their home. One of the recurring families in the movie reminds us of the importance of home. The male child in the family sees death around him every day. All of his friends are dead or gone and he refuses to leave his home. I get this to a certain extent. It's odd to think that I live in a country where it is normal to simply leave home because a better job is offered elsewhere. I don't really have the cultural understanding for staying in Aleppo. But this child is so convinced of the rightness of staying in Aleppo that he considers his friends who have sought shelter to be emotional and spiritual traitors.
But then the biggest question that the movie raises, and I would agree that Waad might even be on my team on this one, is why is Sama there? The movie is perhaps as self-flagellating as it needs to be. For Waad, she is a journalist documenting war crimes. She is there to let the world know that Aleppo is under siege and that innocent people are being killed for simply existing. I get that. All documentarians in the same position have a duty to the truth. Her husband being in Aleppo makes even more sense. As a doctor, he understands the value of life. He stands when people run. It's heroic. Yeah, the documentarian is highlighting the nobility of her husband and that has to be taken with an understanding of bias involved, but I completely support that decision. He is one of the last doctors available in a city that is out of medicine and facilities. He's a hero.
But why is Sama there? Waad asks this question multiple times. Perhaps I know what I would do. There's no scenario where I could stay in Aleppo when my kids would risk death. Death is not abstract. Aleppo is not a heightened health risk. It's not me sleeping in my house with the doors unlocked or no batteries in the smoke detector. This is survival in spite of what everything is telling you. Everyone is dying in Aleppo. The majority of people have been wiped out. Every person has lost people. Only a fragment of society has survived. There's no way that I could have my kids there. There are multiple times in the movie where the grandparents beg to take Sama. If the parents have to be there for the greater good, at least let the grandparents take the kids.
It's heartbreaking for the majority of the movie. I thought with a title like For Sama, that Sama wouldn't have survived the film. God be praised that Sama and the entire family survives the siege of Aleppo, but why did that have to happen? From a parent's perspective, I can see never wanting to be separated from your child. I don't know if I would be able to handle it. But also knowing that my kids would be safe somewhere else would be the most important things. The baby scene, that is the scene that ripped my heart out the most. I audibly exclaimed when it started crying. I was having a terrible day before that, but that scene put it into perspective. But the thing that really damaged my heart is every time that Sama would have to hide from a bombing. Why is she there?
With a title like For Sama, I get that there is a greater meaning behind the film in general. The events of this siege needed to be chronicled. It is a message for all the people of the world of the violence that happened with the siege. But the title also has the dual meaning of being a message for Sama. She was there, although she probably wouldn't remember being in Aleppo. The atrocities are something that Sama must carry forward into the next generation. It takes this abstract concept of war and crime and makes it very real for her. It is her call to justice. I lead a very comfortable life. I have a blog, for goodness sake. But I have seen documentary after documentary about Aleppo and I'm worried that, a decade from now, I won't remember the horrible things that have happened there. There's a blessing and a curse that comes with distance. Naming the film For Sama is a promise that Sama's parents made for her.
I can't stress enough that I would never do what Sama's parents did to her. They are saints in many ways, but perhaps at the expense of parenthood. They clearly love their child and I believe that they did what they did out of love. But my kids will always take priority. There's a lot of stuff that I hold onto very closely that I would sacrifice for my children. It's just that there's a third option that I wish that Sama's parents explored. They knew that they should have let their parents take their child. There's so much out there that is good and Sama's parents kept her in the evil. Even if it was just from a medical perspective, all that garbage that Sama must have breathed in. It depresses me that the world probably isn't a good place. But even do-gooders make mistakes in the name of what is right.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.