Only an involved insider voice can pass through the mortal events in recent years’ Syria, reconstructing the phases of destruction since 2011. Here, some 40 years after the Assad family regime, Obaidah Zytoon and Andreas Dalsgaard’s Danish-produced film The War Show starts. The film is trying, in the dusty savagery, to establish a, mostly, chronologic order, structured in six stages (Revolution – Suppression – Resistance – Siege – Frontlines – Extremism), only counterpointed by the fifth chapter entitled Memories, which describes a short and fragile moment of peace achieved by escaping into nature, with music and joints, for a breather.
The film is led by a female narrator talking about her friends, experiences and analysis with remarkable brevity and clarity. Some of the film’s faces appear blurred to disguise their identity. It is later revealed that these remain alive – and still at risk. Obaidah Zytoon and her friends joined the revolution. The first chapter Revolution recounts the initial euphoria, the sensation of living, requesting freedom for everybody, Christians and Muslims, the first time feeling liberated from a no-future-society of extreme injustice. In her rock radio show, Obaidah asks prophetically: “If we try to change destiny, will it become better or worse?”
With a hand-held camera infiltrating the conflict zones, second chapter Suppression focuses on how demonstrations turn into funerals. Risking one’s life in order to struggle becomes a new daily reality. Third chapter Resistance resumes the state of daily murders and torture, organised, strategically and precisely, outside of the war field by secret state secret forces. As result, the revolution transforms itself into militarisation, resistance into armed defence. Siege documents the upcoming territory war dominated by snipers, starvation and other forms of human degradations, including halting petrol and electricity support. The film cameras get the most important objects in the conflict as an appeal to the international community asking for reaction and support. Wounds are showed off proudly, assisted by an increasing longing for heroism. Obaidah’s friends are systematically tortured and murdered, partly in specific military ‘hospitals’.
Finally, Frontlines expands the dimensions of ‘War Game’. Proud parents train their children to be soldiers. Furthermore, war situations are increasingly simulated. The arming with too light weapons without any change of efficacy is useful enough, that the war can go on as a play field. As Obaidah remarked succinctly: “Blow things up, film, upload and get paid“. The actors of the war play become increasingly unclear, but their activities are legitimating the regimes and its allied air strikes. During this period – unbelievably – Assad’s military forces sometimes play volleyball with members of the ‘Free Army’ on the ground. The War Game documents it. The controlling powers are now warlords and arm dealers. Obaidah notes: “There is a place for everybody in the war show, except the people. “
Final step; Extremism: Assad released criminals and extremists from prison with the intention of creating violence in the name of the revolution and Islamic religion. Growing extremism is the best way to legitimise one’s own military violence and to label the opposition terrorists. On the ground, the Islamic revolution fighters attack defenders of a civil state. At times, it is akin to a play, in which everyone wants to be filmed. Finally, the revolution starts to devour its own children. Female activities are to be forbidden, in addition to other civilised society values. A civil war between different groups takes over. “Only the crime remains“, notes Obaidah, finally, planting, in a touching final scene, some ‘seeds of peace’ in the ground of a long-gone Syria.
The end credits list the final pieces of information: As of medio-2016, some 400 000 people killed, 11 million (half of the country’s pre-war population) are refugees, human rights organisations estimate there are 500 000 prisoners, and add to that 60 000 murdered victims as a result of torture or inhuman treatment whilst detained.
Obaidah Zytoon and Andreas Dalsgaard offer a complex work on the tragic play of transforming reality into empty effects, sometimes evoking Baudrillard’s radical thesis of the non-existing war. War is reduced to a show in the ongoing warfare of information and its resulting disorientation. Simultaneously, the distortion of the revolution’s initial motivations transforms it into an empty show effect, a performance simultaneously in the third sense as a pure spectacle watched by the international community without interfering. Finally, a war in which children play at war games, but die for real.