Tuesday, February 21, 2023

UNDER THE SKY OF DAMASCUS (2023) Berlin 2023

A group of women in Damascus come together to put a play together  about the treatment of women in the country. 

The idea behind the film is that the women are going to put a play together but the misogyny in Syria. The film is lays bare the abuse of women at the hands of men and by the structures of power. What starts out as a large group of women slowly dwindles as the subject matter takes its toll on their lives. Then a series of unexpected events occur which cause everything to fall apart.

This is an atypical film. The film was put together by Heba Khaled who is living in exile in Berlin. She directed the crew remotely in Syria.  The film is bookended by the story of Sabah Al-Salem an actress who was tossed into prison and broken by the abuse she suffered there. Through the women's research and their own stories the full extent of the abuse of women in Syria is revealed. 

It's also very messy in that things happen unexpectedly. The films final third is a series of events which are stark reminders that life sometimes gets in the way. By the time the ending comes things are not fully resolved, and some of what happens is not concluded. However I was still left staring at the screen feeling beaten up by what I had seen. Life, messy as it is has a way of punching you square in the face.

Because of the rough edges and bumps I loved this film. Because of them this film is closer to life and felt more connected to the whole story. I loved the strength of the women in it. I loved the way the film shows us a side of Syria that is not what we typically see. It is not all bombed out cities, but a place of life. I also love that the film goes full bore on the misogyny that is running rampant in the country (and in other countries as well) it's a clear indication that the relationship between men and women in many places, is a war geared toward the destruction of one side by the other. 

The full on revelations of the misogyny echoes out from the film. As the stories come out we see begin to see that it is not just in one place but everywhere. There are parallels to the world outside Syria.  It's something that we may intellectually have know before, however this film brings it to the fore front.  If you doubt that consider how some of the stories of control mirror efforts to limit the right for women to control their lives and bodies even here in America. 

Make no mistake this film is an absolute gut punch. It’s a film that opens your eyes and rips out your heart concerning the treatment of women in the world. If you had any doubt about how bad the misogyny is this film will set you straight. As the film makes clear the abuse is the result of the abusers having control issues, as well as being sadists.  

I was rocked.  The audience I saw this with was too, as it fell unnaturally silent during several portions of the film.

This is a great film. It's the best film I've seen from this year's Berlin slate. It may be one of the years best as well simply because I can’t shake the film and I’ve been discussing it and rewriting this review ever since I saw it. .

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