When you get personal, you get real. Waad al-Kateab, using phone and camcorder gives voice and sound and fury to what was once her home, Aleppo, before it was levelled and she, her husband and daughter, Sama, were forced into exile.
There’s echoes of other diarists such as James Baldwin’s, A Letter to My Nephew, which argues ‘it’s the innocence which constitutes the crime’.
Waad al-Kateab dedicates the film to her daughter, Sama. A precious child that sleeps soundly through air raids, missile, and barrel bomb attacks and knew nothing but war.
One of the most poignant scenes is a pregnant woman brought to the makeshift hospital where Hamaza, Waad al-Kateab’s husband and father of Sama, works as a volunteer doctor. Bashar al-Assad’s government forces routinely targeted hospitals. The woman has been wounded in the stomach and it’s pierced her womb, she’s nine months pregnant. Hamaza performs an emergency caesarean and the neonate is dead. An assistant tries to bring the baby back to life. He rubs its back. Massages its heart. Shakes it like a piece of meat. Then a miracle, the baby cries. The pregnant mother survives, reunited with her boy.
The Arab Spring offers a prelude to the winter of Aleppo in 2016. ‘Bashar has killed our people. That son of a killer,’ one banner read.
Aided by Russia, the war in Syria goes on. For Sama documents how its people can expect bombings, shooting, torture and death. For the lucky few, exile – and hatred, classed as non-persons, refugees.
As Baldwin reminds us, ‘I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it and I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.’