A documentary set inside the maelstrom of Aleppo, ‘For Sama’ is an often harrowing, sometimes uplifting, entirely unique chronicle of life in wartime. It’s the work of Syrian journalist-turned-filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab, who charted her city’s slow death over five years of revolution and repression, and British director Edward Watts, who helped shape it into this stunning doc.
It’s rated 18, which tells you what you need to know about the footage Waad has captured. As Russian jets thunder overhead and shells crash in, her camera plunges into the bloody aftermath. Dust fills corridors, doctors (including her own husband) work in makeshift operating theatres, and your heart sits permanently in your mouth as you wait to find out who made it and who didn’t. The cruelty of the attackers is monumental; the resilience of the besieged even more so.
‘For Sama’ plunges deeper into the conflict than even the grittiest war film could manage. Drone shots time-stamp the city’s bomb-scarred state and CCTV footages shows the moment a bomb hits a hospital. It’s a miracle the film was even made, mainly because it’s a miracle Waad survived, but there are moments of joy too. Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ plays softly at her wedding, the discovery of a persimmon fruit is greeted with tongue-in-cheek jubilation, and gallows humour abounds. All the time, Sama, Waad’s baby daughter for whom the film was made, plays nearby. You don’t need to be religious to find yourself praying for her.