“SILVERED WATER. SYRIA SELF-PORTRAIT” (2014): Five years of slaughter and pain

silvered water 1
Poster of the film.

The first cinematographic documentary distributed since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011 is shocking and brave. Shocking because it shows images the spectator would rather not to remember, and that at some points almost make even close the eyes, for they are unbearable to see: images filmed by anonymous Syrians, with mobile phones and little, cheap cameras, of dead children, tortured teenagers, of all sort of people submitted to violence and humiliations, of corpses left on the street surrounded by puddles of blood. Brave because it faces not only these horrifying images and the real facts they refer to, but the moral responsibility of seeing them, of allowing conscience to register them, and of making a film with this terrible material.

silvered water 2
Syrian landscape.

The vast majority of Europeans -specially European politicians- have chosen to avoid this brutal war for the five years it has been taking place, a slaughter which, in addition to a confused number of victims -some say 270.000- has pushed out of Syria more than six million people, and has created inside the country a movement of more than four millions of displaced persons. Migrated people will be an eternal shame for Europe, which has refused to take in some hundreds of thousands who risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean sea in rickety barges or packed inflatable boats, and whose only reaction to the called “Refugee crisis” has been to look for legal arguments to expel them to Turkey. Silvered Water. Syria Self-Portrait shows from what horror Syrians try to flee before being returned by European indifference.

Silvered Water. Syria Self-Portrait shows from what horror Syrians try to flee.

One of the two filmmakers, Ossama Mohammed, is a refugee in Paris, where he has collected many images filmed with mobile phones and simple cameras sent from Syria over the Internet. His main correspondent is Wiam Simav Berdixan, Kurdish filmmaker and teacher who has created a little school in Homs, one of the most devastated Syrian cities. Both of them, in their respective situations, are two different versions of conscience. The refugee is the distant reflection, the afflicted evocation that often feels guilty for having left, and who can’t avoid to look at the images, to organize them in a montage which turns out to be impossible because brutality doesn’t allow to create a meaning, a sense: if it were possible to edit a “well-made” film, violence would be left outside. That is why, in the final cut of the film, Mohammed has chosen to keep many fragments as they were filmed with the simple devices that filmed them, without mending them nor make them more cinematographic, maintaining a stern respect for the horrible reality these documents come from.

If it were possible to edit a “well-made” film, violence would be left outside.

So Mohammed is reflective conscience, grief-stricken for not being able to alleviate his compatriots’ pain: he represents all the consciences that have to think the Syrian tragedy from outside. Berdixan, the teacher in Homs, is pure survival instinct, but not individual and particular, but communal: she is supportive, generous. She is the one who most images gave to this collective film. When she left Syria to present it in Cannes festival, she was offered to remain in France as a refugee, but she preferred to go back to Homs. Mohammed admits in the film that he encouraged her to quit Syria in order to get her closer to his own flight, to get her out of the silent heroism he wasn’t able to communicate with, and bring her to his own distance, where communication would be possible: the distance and the gap between the exiled and the woman who decided to stay in the country is not physical, but moral.

The distance and the gap between the exiled and the woman who decided to stay in the country is not physical, but moral.

 

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The film directors.

Mohammed tells of a Syrian young boy who asked him help to organize a film club in his Damasc neighbourhood. He says he met him in a projection of Hiroshima mon amour, a great 1959 film by French director Alain Resnais. This cinematographic reference isn’t casual: it gives us the key to the documentary. In Hiroshima mon amour a Japanese man and a French woman, who have had a brief love affair, try to understand and assimilate in common the traumatic experience of the war, to transform experiences in memories, in order to make them bearable, to be able to get in touch with their own inner beings and so live and get out of obsession. The whole film is made of both protagonist voices recalling their experiences in an attempt to exorcise them. But obsessions are incommunicable pricks inside each mind: throughout the film is repeated the sentence “Tu n’as rien vu”, “You haven’t seen anything”, for what has been lived by each person is a cross he or she has to carry alone. The two voices of Silvered Water, those of Mohammed and Berdixan, also resound in the vacuum on the atrocities images. They look for a meaning to close those experiences and make them tolerable, but the meaning refuses to surface. What the film shows, after all, is the impossibility to come to terms with atrocity. That is why there’s no attempt to interpret brutality. The only reflections made by the voices are of a moral sort, on the failure and frustration of conscience.

What the film shows, after all, is the impossibility to come to terms with atrocity.

It is useless to describe these images, one has to see them, to agree to see them, without closing one’s eyes. To see the lifeless bodies of children, a bare teenager obliged to lick his torturer’s boot before being kicked in the face, men beaten up and obliged to kiss photographies of Bachar El-Asad, peaceful demonstrations broken up with bursts of gunfire, blood everywhere, a cat with a broken leg dragging itself through Homs ruined streets, a starving dog with its bones piercing its skin, a boy talking to his dead father’s tomb and putting flowers in it, the same boy walking through Homs streets, under the watchful eye of an unseen sniper, in a fearful journey during which the spectator is afraid the boy will be shot at any moment.

silvered water 4
A boy walks through half-ruined Homs, under the watchful eye of an unseen sniper.

Mohammed’s voice tells us about children and teenagers tortured in the city of Deraa in February 2011, the episode which has become the emblem of the beginning of tortures in Syria five years ago: a group of young boys wrote on a wall that people wanted the end of El-Asad regime (“It’s your turn, doctor”), police arrested the day after 18 young people (ten of them minors), tortured them -punchs, electric shocks, nails ripped-, and killed the others. When the parents of one of them went to police station to reclaim their son, officers told them he was dead, that they should make another one, that they (officers) could make it. We see images of the demonstration in Deera against the tortures and killings, and how military police shot at demonstrators and killed yet more people.

(The chief of police, cousin of El Asad, told all the parents to forget about their children. Of the 18 young boys arrested, only four are still today in Syria, fighting, some of them in Islamic fundamentalist groups; four were killed in the war; the other ones run away from Syria, and must be barely surviving in some inhuman refugee camp.)

silvered water 5
Demonstration in Deraa against the killing and torture of innocent young boys by Syrian police. Military police fired on unarmed demonstrators and killed yet more persons in order to suppress the protest.

There is one soldier in the film who refused to obey orders and didn’t shoot at demonstrators: instead joined them after renouncing to arms. This man asks other Syrian soldiers not to fire on defenceless people. There are children from Berdixan school singing, playing, and laughing, in spite of the fact that some of them are injured. These are sparks of life and goodness in absolute darkness. Because of them this film is worth seeing.

The film was projected in a special session organized in order to collect money for ACNUR and Doctors Without Borders in Syria. In a final explanation after the projection were given some key facts that allow to understand much better both the film and the situation in Syria. The war broke because Syrian people protested against the corruption in the country, where El-Asad family and their followers in power own more than half the total wealth. There were tortures and assassinations of people that not even wanted to overthrow the regime, but only asked for some reforms. ISIS entered Syria in the second year of the war. This war isn’t a fight between El-Asad official regime and ISIS, with Free Syrian Army added in the middle, as many mainstream media want us to believe; it is a constant assault on helpless civilians by vicious killers with different flags and uniforms. It is lasting for five years, and Europe only wants to get rid of the people who try to save their life.

 

DETAILS

Directors: Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Berdixan
Country: Syria
Original language: Arabic
Locations: Homs, Deraa (Syria), Paris
Running length: 92 minutes
Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPaERAgs2uY

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