REFUGEE LIFE: Syrian refugees are rebuilding the Middle East while they wait to return home.
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: July 6, 2017
Country: Germany/Lebanon/Syria

The 2017 edition of the Swiss film festival “Visions du Réel” in Nyon was the last to be helmed by director Luciano Barisone. This edition of the festival has confirmed, once again, that one of its main objectives is to give marginalized, abandoned, and often helpless people a chance to be seen and respected. Disconnected individuals with restricted means of communication or social comfort, who find themselves neglected by the outside world, are offered an international platform from which to reaffirm their existence. This year, Ziad Kalthoum’s astonishing Taste of Cement won the award for best feature-length documentary.

Intimate and grand. Ziad Kalthoum’s award-winning documentary Taste of Cement is an audio-visual masterpiece which neatly incorporates all of these conditions. Talal Khoury’s camera rests on silent, motionless, introverted, exhausted and hopeless faces of its subjects. He effortlessly shifts from meditative, detailed images to surprising panoramas from soaring perspectives; as is the case with the opening scene, where a narrow view of the structures of a quarry opens up to an overwhelming view of Beirut city.

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The soundtrack is a sublime composition of noise and silence. Often completely independent of the visuals, the sound mostly refers to a huge site where the construction of Beirut’s tallest skyscraper is underway.

On one hand, this building process symbolises resistance, and the will to return to normality and wealth. On the other hand, it represents, in a metaphorical sense, the on-going destruction of the region. In one of the most impressive audio-visual scenes, Kalthoum combines the complex sounds and movements of the building work, undertaken in vertiginous heights, with the images of a missile tank speeding through and over a completely obliterated town somewhere in Syria. The reverberation of the heavy machinery of the workers, the blast of gunfire from the tanks, and the deafening industrial noise are all part of the same destructive process.

«We see exhausted bodies of the Syrian construction workers resting, scattered on the ground of the building site.»

Syrian workers. Occasionally, we hear …

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