Theater of Cruelty

The dream of Europe

The documentary Born in Syria allows us to get to know seven Syrian children and their different routes to and through Europe.



It should basically only be missing that a number of documentaries in recent times have dealt with both the war in Syria and the flow of refugees from this and other conflicts. As the undersigned has previously written about here in Ny Tid, last year's edition of the international documentary film festival in Thessaloniki devoted a separate program to films about the burning current refugee situation. And not least, Italian Gianfranco Rosi has received much and well-deserved attention – including the Golden Bear in Berlin and most recently also an Oscar nomination – for his quiet and at the same time powerful film The sea is burning, which also got cinema distribution here in Norway. This documentary portrays the small and somewhat sleepy local community on the island of Lampedusa, which is the first stop in Europe for many of the people who have taken the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, but little to the refugee's individual stories.

Children's stories. However, so does the Danish- and Spanish-produced documentary Born in Syria, which will be shown at the Human Rights Film Festival Human Rights Human Wrongs in Oslo this month. Of the estimated 11 millions of people who have fled Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011, about half are reported to be children. Argentine filmmaker Hernán Zin has followed seven of these minor refugees for one year, in a film that thus bears some obvious resemblance to This is Exile: Diaries of Child Refugees (which was mentioned here in the newspaper when it was shown during last year's Arab Film Days in Oslo). This documentary also portrayed Syrian children on the run, who were filmed for just as long.

But there This is Exile based on a refugee camp in Syria's neighboring Lebanon, draws Born in Syria an even more complete picture of the protagonists' journey to their respective countries of destination in Europe – and is thus an outrageous document of the various transport routes to and through our increasingly closed continent. Initially, we witness exhausted people arriving in small and crowded boats, followed by the well-known images of the dead Syrian boy on a beach in Turkey – as the film regularly draws relevant clips from the news scene. Not least on the soundtrack, where we also often hear European heads of state comment on the situation.

Born in Syria is an outrageous document about the various transport routes to and through our increasingly closed continent.

Famous pictures. The film also shows, among other things, the crowded refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesbos and other temporary refugees for refugees, the barbed wire-clad wall along Hungary's border with Serbia, as well as the many refugees who, after staying long at the Budapest train station, finally began to go to Vienna. In other words, many of the places and events in the film are well-known from the news media, but are linked here to specific and individual fates – in particular Kais, Mohammed, Gaseem, Arasuli, Hamude, Jihan and Marwan. All refugees between the ages of 8 and 14, who with their families – or rather parts of them – move through our continent, largely on foot, hoping for a better life.

Their descriptions of their own experiences make up the film's narrative voices, as the director also left the children's stories at the center of his previous documentary Born in Gaza. At the same time, the filmmaker's far-reaching presence ensures close-up portrayals of the dramatic journeys, with footage from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands – impressively photographed by himself with 4K camera. The film regularly uses a slow motion effect on the images, which may sound unnecessarily sentimental, but which both emphasize the fateful gravity and contribute to a powerful and very gripping cinematic experience. Some of the evocative music signed by Jean-Pierre Ensuque and the experienced film composer Gabriel Yared also does.

It is no less painful to hear the obviously traumatized children tell of the family members they hope to meet again and continue to live with.

Heartbreaking. But the children's stories are, nevertheless, more than heartbreaking enough in themselves, from the bomb-damaged little boy who – and here we must necessarily get supplementary statements from his adult uncle – still have not been told that the parents are dead, to a family's unconditional joy in obtain a residence permit. And it is no less painful to hear the obviously traumatized children talk about the family members they hope to meet again and continue to live with, in the light of our own government's active counteracting of just such reunions.

The film also follows the children in the months after arriving in the various European countries, where they try to learn languages ​​and make friends – and thereby show both hope and challenges for their journey further. And when the movie finally sums up how it went with them after the footage ended (which seems to have been in the summer of 2016), it's not everyone's stories that have had equally happy endings. But still, the children have been lucky, who came to Europe before the continent last year became even more of an impassable fortress.

And while the Norwegian authorities are most concerned with sending out signals that one should not come to us, Born in Syria is a strong and necessary reminder that the refugees from this constantly ongoing war are not just numbers and statistics, but primarily people. And that they must therefore meet with humanism, not with walls, prohibitions of entry and other hostilities.

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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