For Sama (2019) Film Review

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The winner of this year’s SXSW Documentary Feature Competition’s Grand Jury and Audience Awards, For Sama follows filmmaker Waad al-Kateab’s life as she documents the uprising in Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War. During her time in the city, she marries doctor Hamza and gives birth to a daughter named Sama.

First of all, For Sama is a love letter to the eponymous child, who was born in a time of despair and horror. Through Waad’s careful eyes, the documentary provides a heartfelt account of life in a conflict-ridden area and the strength to fight among dwindling odds. What starts off as a film about the growing revolution against Bashar al-Assad becomes a fight for survival, giving audiences an unfiltered account of the growing tensions in Aleppo.

The power of For Sama is its courage not to shy away from the horrors of war. There are rough, heartbreaking images of injured and killed citizens, along with children who don’t fully understand the severity of the war. As Waad’s friend sadly says: “Children has nothing to do with this”, it surmises the situation – they aren’t the ones directly fighting the case yet they must deal with the pain of loss at an early age. These elements are shocking to the core but it is hard to avoid or ignore. In addition, the fact that the Battle of Aleppo is documented worldwide but no-one steps in to help them reiterates the futility of the situation. 

However, it is not all bleak – there are rare moments of joy and laughter. Ranging from Waad’s marriage to Hamza and their time with Sama to their life at a makeshift school, there is an unspoken need to live a normal life. Unfortunately, any tranquillity is quickly shattered with a terrifying reality. When the increasing pressures of war cause Waad and Hamza to consider the impossible, it encapsulates the hidden message behind the documentary – and the difficult choices brought on by conflict.

Its rawness and poignancy make it heartbreaking but its focus on an ongoing political issue makes it relevant. Powerful and evocative, For Sama is an essential watch.

Director: Waad Al-Khateab, Edward Watts
Stars: Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab, Waad Al-Khateab
Runtime: 100 minutes
Country: UK, Syria, USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★

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