FOR SAMA- Mini Review

for sama

FOR SAMA 10!!!

Directors: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts. Cast:Waad Al-Kateab, Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab

To review “For Sama” as if it was like any other film or documentary feels wrong. For a start it’s distasteful and disrespectful for the thousands of people who have suffered and are still suffering as a result of what’s happening in Syria (or many other places savaged by war), but also this is not like a normal documentary (even though there are skilful makers behind the scenes doing their best work: some beautiful shots, some perfectly judged music, some skilful decisions in the editing and so on).

Waad al-Kateab’s devastating personal account of the last few years in Aleppo set against the backdrop of a crumbling city, countless death and unimaginable horrors, had me completely floored like nothing before.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much during a film in my entire life.
In fact I have to confess I had to pause the film a few times and take a break from it (a luxury that its protagonists never had). This is as close to impossible to watch as it gets, and yet at the same time I am really happy I got to the end (I particularly love her take at the very end). This film should probably be compulsory viewing to everyone, especially those who complain about immigrants from Syria “stealing our jobs”.
These are people living a life where air strikes, mass funerals, people dying in front of your eyes, crumbling buildings and the soundtrack of gunfire right behind your wall are part of a daily routine.
But what makes “For Sama” a unique masterpiece are the moments of pure love, laughs and smiles in among the unspeakable sadness.
A scene in particular relating to a C-Section on a still born baby had me sobbing in convulsions, not for the reason you might expect, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Al-Kateab films everything with both the unflinching eye of a journalist (in one heartbreaking scene she even gets confronted by a screaming mother who’s just lost her child: “why are you filming?!”) and at the same time with the heart, care and love of a mother who one day will have to explain all this to her daughter Sama… and of course to us.
The result is one not just the best documentaries of the year, but one of the most heartbreaking pieces of work I’ve ever seen (just watching the trailer below makes me weep again).

Life in a Day – Review

Life in a Day (2011) 

Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Produced by Tony Scott & Ridley Scott.

Last year (2010) YouTube launched a campaign, supported by executive producers Tony and Ridley Scott, asking everybody with a camcorder to record a day in their lives. Fast forward a year to 2011 and director Kevin Macdonald and editor Joe Walker (never an editor has been more crucial to the making of a film), release their documentary to the world and to the same people who actually filmed it.

Apparently 80000 videos for a total of 4500 hours were submitted from 126 different nations.

The result is a film that tells the story of a day on Earth, and precisely the 24th of July 2010: 24 hours in the life of ordinary people. Their stories, their images, their thoughts, all linked together by an incredible work of editing and a rousing soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams

You can argue that some of it might  be slightly heavy-handed (a shot of a cow being killed on camera is then, non very subtlety, cut together with a man eating from a bowl of spaghetti), but some of the choices are absolutely inspired (montage sequences of people getting up in the morning or having breakfast or simply walking). It’s the amalgamation of all these little snippets of life that makes the film an incredible watch and eventually it ends up actually telling a whole story as the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

The film starts at midnight as people are still asleep in most places: some night shift workers are already at it, some wild party animals are still up from the previous day, but generally speaking it’s a quiet start. Within a few minutes, we are treated by a sunrise montage from all over the world as people are getting up in the most remote corners of the globe. They have breakfast, some of them go to work, others stay at home, somebody shaves for the first time (a very funny scene!), somebody decides to lay in bed for a bit longer, and somebody else begins a new “empty” day: loneliness might be just around the corner…

Despite the sometimes over-indulgent choice of editing and the ever-present soundtrack the film still manages to capture that pulsating realism of modern life through simple gestures, looks, words and silences as the similarities and (many) differences are exposed.

But just when you are about to think “is this film going to be just a long montage sequence?”, then the film suddenly slows down and you are actually treated to real moments into people’s life (well, I say “real”, obviously there’s a camera filming so I suppose it’s “a version of reality”, but that doesn’t diminish its value nor its emotional impact on the audience).

For example, quite early on a little boy of probably 4 is woken up by his dad who’s filming the whole thing (I seem to remember they were in Japan or thereabout): we stay with them for a while as they talk about seemingly mundane things: the boy is incredibly sweet,  the house is strangely messy. Then dad says “let’s go and say ‘hi’ to mom”. They move to a corner of a room where we see for the first time a little shrine with a picture of a woman. Together they light an incense and pay their little morning tribute to the mom.

It’a quiet moment that tell a thousand words: no need for commentary or any explanation. It’s clear these two have been doing this for a while. It’s clear they are incredibly close to each other. Mom is gone. They are both alone, but they have each other… We fill the gaps in an instant. It’s an incredibly poignant moment. This time there is no music playing underneath. The director knows when to manipulate its audience and when he should take a step back and let us make our own mind and feel what we want to feel.

Life in a day is full of simple moments like this one. So simple and yet so powerful.

Don’t worry, there are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments too.

Generally speaking the film is edited in such a way that shows a certain optimism that comes with the beginning of a new day and yet is some cases, this fades away for some as we approach sunset and go through the night by which time loneliness takes over the weakest ones. It’s a beautifully constructed device, which might be a bit contrived but it works perfectly.

In the end, this is a film about everything: rich countries and poor countries, smiles and tears (quite a lot in my case, I must confess), day and night, life and death, animals and humans, man and women, whites, blacks, gays, straights, children and very old people, happiness and desperation.  We are all there, with our fears, our idiosyncrasies, our routines, our doubts, our weaknesses…

Everybody will come out of it and will probably remember something different. Each of us might identify with a different moment in the film. One thing is certain: you will never forget it.

It might not be a complete masterpiece, but there is so much good stuff in it that makes you forget the slightly sugary moments and the most heavy handed ones.

This was my favorite film of the year so far and definitely the most intense emotional experience I’ve had in a long time.

YOU CAN NOW WATCH IT ONLINE:  http://www.youtube.com/lifeinaday

9.5/10

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