Saturday, August 5, 2017

Last Men in Aleppo

Last Men in Aleppo; documentary, Syria / Denmark, 2017; D: Firas Fayyad, S: Khaled Omar Harrah

Aleppo. The Syrian war rages on while the city is constantly under siege. In 2016, the Syrian government launches another offensive against the rebels, while the civilians are caught in the middle. Khaled, a father of two children, is a volunteer for the White Helmets, an emergency organization that saves wounded people under the rubble. He runs in ambulance from apartment to apartment, but the casualties just keep mounting. He contemplates fleeing, but it is already to late. In the end, Khaled dies in bombardment while trying to save a family.

More than being a documentary, "Last Men in Aleppo" is a horror film. But even more than being a horror film, it is a monument to life and humanity of its protagonist, Khaled Omar Harrah, who sacrificed his life trying to save others, making this a chronicle of his last days. The battle of Aleppo received little attention in the media in the West, and thus this film by Firas Fayyad gives a rare, brave glimpse inside hell on Earth: it is brutal, depressive, sad and unbearable, but it forces the viewers to think. It makes not only for a strange chronicle of how something like this can happen in the civilized world of the 21st century, but is also a document to war crimes committed by those who were pounding these people to death: the Syrian government and Goreshist Russia. The film shows a clip of Khaled saving a living baby buried under a tone of destroyed walls, through which he became famous, but also follows him on his daily drive to fresh rubble, trying to save other wounded people under the rubble. It is like watching the modern day Sisyphus: no matter how many he saves, war planes strike and kill some more. It just goes on and on. Several scenes illustrate the bleak, dark situation these people are in: a war plane dropping forbidden white phosphorus that glows in night or cluster bombs that explode throughout entire neighborhoods. A cat crawls under and enters a house, trying to find safety, but its lower legs are almost crippled. Khaled buys some living fish on the market, thinking it can be used as food in case hunger breaks out due to siege. The film does not take any side in the war. It just follows and objectively shows things how they were in Aleppo. It is full of contrasts: on one side, we have heroes, the White Helmets, who are seen and who save the people, and on the other we have villains who are hiding, cowardly killing from far away. It also contemplates about some bigger issues in life, such as helplessness and frailness of good among the people. This film is a tough watch. It is like watching people being destroyed through a meat grinder for an hour and a half. But is refuses to turn away, through which it implores the viewers to think about the value of life and the importance of humanity in dark times.


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