Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

Karlovy Vary documentary selection follows Syrians in and outside of Syria

We have all seen the shocking images from Syria; the destroyed towns, dead bodies in the streets, thousands of refugees on the road or penned together in makeshift refugee camps. Alfoz Tanjour undertakes the significant task of documenting what occurs on a day to day basis, beyond the tragedy of war, in the private spaces of a population that, for the last  fifty years, suffered under the oppression of Assad’s regime. He explores what happens to those who have left the country, with no prospect of ever returning. The experiences of four characters, most of them now refugees in different parts of Europe, who faced the horror which remains with them still, are the focus of A Memory in Khaki.

The documentary presented as a European premiere in the prestigious Karlovy Vary Film Festival reflects the inner reality of generations of Syrians, who like most of their countrymen, felt like strangers in their own land. Those who managed to escape left feeling as though they had lost their cultural identity and emotional security forever.

Filmmaker Alfoz Tanjour (b. 1975, Salameih, Syria) offers four very personal perspectives and languages, sometimes occasionally poetic, as in the case of the writer Ibrahim Samuel who tries to describe the unbearable. For all of them, khaki is not just a color, but a symbol of dictatorial oppression in every stage of their daily life. It’s the color of the soldiers’ uniforms, but also of the scholars who were forced to wear not only khaki jackets and trousers, but also shirts and socks in this same color. It’s the most visible sign of life in a completely controlled society, where fear is the overwhelming force. It is the color of a society that forbids continuity and dictates orders that can never be questioned. The image of big brother Assad is present everywhere.

Fifty years of repression has created a society of barbarity in which human behavior has been abandoned in favor of corruption and sadism. How many generations will be necessary to overcome this unstated and unlimited cruelty? For the moment, it’s too early to ask this question.

Amathel is one of the women resisting this forced submission, refusing an arranged marriage,  another form of the ongoing violence. Rejecting this deeply-rooted custom is such an impossible act that she was forced to leave her home immediately never to return. At first she hid in the nearby capital of Damascus then left the country altogether. She was forced to constantly change her name, and kept doing so even when she reached Finland, her country of refuge. She knows that Syrian forces will not be stopped at the border.

A memory in Khaki. Director: Alfoz Tanjour. Qatar, 2016

The lucid witnesses recall events in a historical perspective, remembering how in the 1970’s the regime succeeded in transforming the revolution of the people into a war against religion and terrorism (see also: The fight against the Muslim Brotherhood was only the first step, before general terror spread to virtually every part of the country. The militant propaganda extended to include different factions of the population, until it reached everyone, communists, nationalists and even members of the party who risked having their own thoughts. This terror was produced by those who had never won a real fight or war, except for launching several attacks on their Arab neighbors.

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