Focus on A Syrian Love Story

A Syrian Love Story

After winning the Grand Jury Award at the Sheffield Doc/Fest (5-10 June) on Wednesday, Sean McAllister's A Syrian Love Story [+] was screened for the second time at Bologna's Biografilm Festival (5-15 June).

The acclaimed British documentarist received a very warm welcome from the Biografilm audience. Known for The Liberace in Baghdad and The Reluctant Revolutionary, McAllister's latest film charmed the Sheffield jury with “his Bergman-style portrait of a love story set in tumultuous surroundings”.

And indeed, for A Syrian Love Story, McAllister followed a couple from Tartous (Syria) for over four years. Amer (a Palestinian fighter and refugee in Syria) and his four children are waiting for Raghda to be released. A political activist who was imprisoned under Bashar al-Assad's regime, Raghda met Amer in one of the prisons where thousands of dissidents are confined, and the Arab Spring and the 2011 civil war in Syria could lead to her liberation.

The film, which is basic and stripped-down in style, follows this family during its most intimate moments, and we see the ups and downs of each of its members, from the eldest son to Bob, the youngest, with his long, black hair. McAllister is always with them, as if he were part of the family, until he is also arrested by Mukhabarat, the secret police that confiscate his camera and detain him for five days.

The family is forced to escape to Lebanon, and from there, they reach the south of France, their final stop. McAllister joins them there, too, and finds (and portrays) a couple whose relationship is dissolving. For Raghda, a true pasionaria, living in the Western world is like being locked in a gilded cage. She wants to travel back to Syria and fight for democracy, but, as Amer tells her, “You cannot be Che Guevara and a mother at the same time.”

According to the Yorkshire director, “Everything we know about the Middle East comes from a three-minute slot on the evening news. By portraying a family in its existential dimension, I wanted to tell the story of a people in its most difficult moments.”

By Camillo De Marco