Willemien Sanders
Dr. Willemien Sanders is a regular critic at Modern Times Review.

Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Last Men in Aleppo will have its European premiere at the March opening film of Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX.

Last Men in Aleppo

Feras Fayyad

Syria 2017, 104 minutes

It is an intimate encounter with a group of The White Helmets: men who risk their lives trying to rescue victims – dead or alive – of airstrikes and other attacks on Aleppo from rubble and debris. They often seem to be targets of the strikes themselves. We get to know their work as well as their private lives in the period from September 2015 till the autumn of 2016. Since the outbreak of civilian protests, and the subsequent turn to violence by both the Assad regime and foreign parties, we have seen a number of shorter and longer documentaries about the war. These include Morning Fears, Night Chants, Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait and Return to Homs, winner of the same Sundance award in 2014. They all confront us with the realities of war, destruction and devastation, and their effects on human beings, most notably ordinary citizens. And they are all filmed from within, which firmly removes them from journalism.

This film follows a group of White Helmets, most notably Khaled, Mahmoud and Nagieb, as they drive around the Aleppo, cope with substandard equipment, or stare at the sky in search of fighter jets. Last Men in Aleppo deepens out the understanding of war by contrasting flashes of ‘action’ for the team with moments of everyday life and contemplation. Should they stay or leave? Send their families away or keep them close? Perpetual destruction is countered with periods of reconstruction, as a temporary cease fire is used to rebuild at a small part of their personal living space. The relief the cease fire provides also allows for anti-Bashar rallies, a visit to the playground and a bit of joking around – although tensions and worries are never far away.

For Last Men in Aleppo director Feras Fayyad collaborated with the Aleppo Media Center, an initiative to cover what happens in Aleppo, with a focus on everyday concerns of its inhabitants. Fayyad later found a production partner in Copenhagen’s Larm Film and based on what Fayyad and his obviously talented camera crew shot and the characters and story lines

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