Director Feras Faryyad returns to his besieged Syria after his Oscar nominated Best Documentary LAST YEAR IN ALEPPO. Fayyad’s disturbing new doc THE CAVE went on to win the People’s Choice Documentary at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
THE CAVE refers to the subterranean hospital where a doctor, 30-year old Dr. Amani and her female team fight to save lives while fending off systematic sexism.
The film shot between late 2016 and Math 2018 is set in eastern Al Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. When the film opens, the audience hears bombings, which are regularly carried out by the Syrian Regime and the Russians at the Syrian citizens. Around 400,000 are trapped in the area with no way out, as informed by the voiceover that turns out to be the voice of Dr. Amani. She emphasizes that everyone is searching for different ways to survive.
Dr. Amani Ballour runs the hospital, tending to the wounded and malnourished. It is heart-wrenching to watch her comfort a boy who thinks he’s dying or a baby who’s choking on rubble. But though she and her colleagues work as equals alongside their male counterparts,
the patriarchal culture still exists. One man comes in for medicine and then tells Dr. Ballour that “women should stay at home, not work.” Of course, director Fayyad sets the record straight behaving him being told off.
The film’s little humour occurs in the birthday scene – Amani’s surprise birthday party where they consume salad instead of pizza and popcorn instead of candy.
The film, in all its earnest intentions accomplishes its aim at wrenching out concern and sympathy from the audience. At times director Fayyad step up the angst by showing disturbing scenes of injured children after bombings. But one wishes that there is clearer direction in his film. There seems to be lots of scenes of the wounded but not beginning or conclusion or climax. One wishes that he has explained the origins of the bombings instead of just placing the audience in the midst of the chaos and just saying that the Russians and Syrian Regime are responsible.
The film’s most poignant moments occur during the end credits. Here the names of 4 of the staff are mentioned, who died during filming. It is a sad state of affairs and a sad story and one that need to be told.
It is worthy to note the difficulties encountered in the filming of THE CAVE. Feras Fayyad was not allowed into the area. Thus, he directed the film, remotely, relying on three gifted Damascus-born cinematographers who give the film a visual style. The script is by Alisar Hasan and Fayyad. Fayyad was drawn to the female-centric story because of his own background (mother, seven sisters and four aunts) and his 15 months in prison (for making a film) where women and children were tortured. Shot in Arabic and English.