2019 / documentary, war / 1hr 47min / directed by Feras Fayyad / country: Syria | Denmark | Germany | Qatar | USA / language: Arabic | English / subtitles: English
“Shot from 2016 to 2018, The Cave belongs to the top rank of war films. Syrian director Feras Fayyad (Oscar-nominated for Last Men in Aleppo) takes us to a subterranean landscape that feels akin to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max. With life too dangerous above ground, survivors create a network of secret tunnels under the city of Ghouta, near Damascus, for an underground hospital maintained by women doctors. In contrast to the many Syrian documentaries made from cellphone footage or shaky cameras, Fayyad takes great care to visualize the landscape and its memorable occupants with artful cinematography. For anyone who feels jaded by Syria coverage, this work stands apart. The heart of the film is Dr. Amani, a young Syrian woman operating in unimaginable conditions with great humour and fortitude. When not tending to patients — many of whom are small children — she’s forced to justify her work to chauvinistic men who insist that a woman should be at home fulfilling domestic duties, not running a hospital. The claustrophobia of Amani’s workplace is mitigated by the high spirits of her crew, while occasional forays above ground temper relief from close quarters with harrowing scenes of a city reduced to rubble. Fayyad’s intimate portraits of the brave, tenacious hospital staff emphasize the camaraderie that buoys morale when circumstances are at their worst. There are many scenes in The Cave that can break your heart, yet the film leaves us, above all, with a powerful sense of the profound resilience, dedication, and love that endures in the midst of staggering hardship.” (TIFF.net)
“The Cave is not a didactic or information-driven documentary. It’s an actively observational grounding of the audience into a truth you have to see to believe-a spiritual appeal to the senses. For every bomb we see almost hit us, we are spared a screen full of text. For every infant hand we see reaching up for the doctor’s stethoscope amidst the chaos following a blast, we are spared a formal, scripted interview sit-down or sound bite. When we see a gassed group of children brought to The Cave to die and wrapped in tablecloths because there are no replacements available for their chemically-stained clothes, we are diverted away from more standard informative fare that attempts to describe the indescribable.
This is not about the state of the Syrian war. This IS the Syrian war, enclosed from both ends, with the relentless reverberations of warplanes flying above ground and the normalization of a day-to-day constant of fear.
Most impactful was the perspective of the pediatrician (the subject of the film). Through clinical training, physicians grow a callus for their patients. Intentionally so, to remain calm, collected, rational. But also unintentionally, to subconsciously remove themselves from the trauma children experience in front of them on a daily basis. Seeing Dr. Amani crack, it destroyed me. Locking herself in the room and weeping, waiting for the next wave, not knowing what’s going to come next. “Come home,” her father insists on voicemail. But the clinic depends on her. It would be nothing without her. We’re reminded that heroes are human and vulnerable.
I felt physically beaten down leaving the theater. I had to play my “It’s going to be ok” playlist. I am not sure if it will, but if Amani can help these children find some momentary faith, I think we can all do better.” -DjMethod, IMDb.com