As The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the highest honour bestowed by the European Parliament was awarded to two young Yezidi women, Nadia Murad and Lamija Adschi, the media community took a brief look at the overwhelming human disaster and terror against young women in the Syrian’s conflict zones. Of course, not only those of Yezidi origin, but thousands of women are victims of organised crime, largely committed by the lower ranks of IS-manipulated ‘religious believers’, who only know the Koran as a book with too many pages.
Again, Doc Festival Leipzig emphasises its rational awareness of actual and urgent issues, which, unfortunately, not all documentary festivals are ready to be confronted with. The latest festival offers, with Behrouz Nouranipour’s A 157, a profound look at the psychological and social conditions of women who have been confronted with the murder of their own family members, having been taken away to unknown locations and imprisoned in caves. They have suffered long-term, systematic sexual abuse at the hands of ‘believers’ who, through their orientation books were told what they can do to their female victims, whatever their age. Females are used as gifts for services to war, their recipients, assisted by waiting buyers on the outside, are ready to take them to even remoter locations.
Nouranipour fixed her camera on a refugee camp for removed women. They are washing, drying, cooking, and just trying to keep busy. Alone in a refugee tent, there is no further help or assistance. Sometimes they receive a UNICEF food box, but no medical or psychological support. This, in one of these camps, is where A 157 starts, with a camera view on a lost doll on the muddy ground, in a wet and cold landscape, a narrow space shared by 17,000 people. The central characters are two sisters Hailin and Roken, 11 and 15 years old, and their former neighbour and friend Soolaf, 13. They try to take care of each other, they try to survive. Often, they sing sad songs reminiscing what happened to them. Most frequently we hear Roken’s voice, but all three are interviewed in the documentary. They are not always able to answer. Often, tears interrupt their speech. They all are in various stages of pregnancy, all violated for months by the same man. Longing for their own mothers, they cannot imagine what it will mean to be a mother themselves.
As if this is not enough pain, in the first camp, into which the three youngsters were placed, their neighbours accuse them, with hypocritical morals, of being ‘dirty’. So, it is necessary to find them a replacement, this time to a camp near the Turkish border. But, again, they have no right to leave the camp, even briefly, to attend a nearby hospital, as they have no ID papers and no hope of getting any.
Behrouz Nouranipour does not add any special effects. She gives space to the three young female voices. Occasionally, she zooms in their faces. Her camera is nearly always restricted to the visuals of the camp’s reduced living conditions. We see their dirty shoes in front of the tent and the insects in the slurry ground. Nouranipour points out how her three main characters possess very individual views, despite their young ages. Soolaf has distanced herself from her mother. After witnessing her mother’s behaviour, she has opted to take care of herself. Soolaf does not want to see her again. Her will to survive is questioned. She prefers, in her naive faith, to escape this world with her child, to find herself in peace and supported in the heavenly sphere. In the end, Soolaf wants to kill herself. Contrarily, Roken is using, perhaps the most touching words of Nouranipour’s documentary, as she describes her feelings about her unwanted child: “A baby is the mother’s heart, part of her body and soul,” she continues, “I am not alone, there is another soul with me.” But, Roken will also be forever marked, simply overwhelmed by her lonely, profound experiences and pain.
Nouranipour’s undeniable strength is to not fall for the use of lamentation or sentimentality. In the contrary, she is celebrating these young women‘s strength in fighting long and hard in order to survive. If, finally, as in the case of Soolaf, the unbearable traumatisation will dominate, it is portrayed as a plea for a better life. Nouranipour’s depiction of the camp’s realities show us quite a different scenario than the media’s images of refugee protection and the strategically set-ups of the occasional arranged meetings of politics and refugees needs. They want us to believe these, whilst the documentary teaches us to see.
Watch the trailer here.