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A tribute to the home

On the Ruins of a Dream
Regissør: Hisham al-Zouki

On the Ruins of a Dream is an exercise in reflecting on what a home means – but also what it means to lose it. 


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A heavy padlock hangs on a heavy metal chain. A man in a well-tailored suit routinely unlocks the door, revealing a rubbish, bombastic ruin. Among the scrap on the floor he finds remains of photographs – which makes him enthusiastically tell of a once lush family life. All that's left in this house now is a massive bed with a magnificent headboard, which sits darkly against the ruins of the city behind. What's left here that this man wants to protect? 

He is one of several family fathers that Syrian, Oslo-based director Hisham al-Zouki has managed to take on the heavy road back to one of the thousands of Syrian homes that now exist only in the memories. On the Ruins of a Dream becomes an exercise in reflecting on what a home means to the individual – but just as much what being robbed of their home entails. 

Projection under the magnifying glass. Al-Zouki himself can be said to have lost in the double, perhaps triple sense. First, he was arrested during student protests in Damascus in 1987, which led to imprisonment and isolation from the family for seven years. After the release, however, the pursuit was not over and he was forced out of his home again. Al-Zouki received political asylum in Norway in 1995, and established himself here with the Norwegian family. The exile deprived him of the opportunity to return to his homeland for a long time. 

House and home are time, in so many different ways.

Now, with the enormous destruction the country is undergoing, he is also losing his home in a very specific sense. In this documentary, he shows both his vulnerability and the grief over what Syria can no longer share with his half-Syrian, half-Norwegian children. As with countless other victims of the war, the family home in Damascus now exists only in the form of some sharp, poor quality video clips. 

Al-Zouki allows these footage to be projected on one of the few intact walls of the family ruin in the Syrian capital. In front we glimpse the burnt fruit trees that used to be the mother's most precious ornament and pride. We get to meet her as one of the few women in the film – all mothers of family fathers who have lost their homes, their city, their network and their families. 

The Syrian-Norwegian director has deliberately chosen reflections of himself in the other characters. In this way he expresses different sides of himself through these others. He is the young boy who builds with his father, and just as much the singer and poet who looks down upon his childhood city sings and remembers the Fridays they gathered to do nice things together. He is the well-dressed man who has earned a respectable income abroad and returned home for the dream to finally come true, and he is his own mother where she despairs of the bombs that have destroyed her beloved orchard and melted it once so living family home to bursting cast iron – the only thing left of the house.

Al Jazeera production. This low-key depiction of the memories of the haunting haunt came to light after many of the director's film projects had been rejected for applications for Norwegian film support. Al-Zouki had to go to the Arab Al Jazeera to get funding for this and other films. Common to these is the reflective and poetic, yet at the same time mercilessly honest and confrontational approach to the theme. 

The nicely dressed man we meet at the beginning of the film sets out how much suffering and sacrifice it took to get a home in Syria before the conflict started. Many had to travel abroad, often to Cyprus or Lebanon, to earn the money needed. Another family father continues: Walking around restlessly was exhausting. He and the family bought a small plot of land and immediately started laying bricks on bricks. 

The film is an exercise in reflecting on what a home means.

Who says what is not good to say – the various statements are mixed into a large conspiracy. This grip causes the associations to flood and the mind to fly fast and free. I no longer follow who speaks when new pieces of narrative follow – which also hit hard. Making a house was a common project: Often it was a day job for the whole family – uncles, aunts, cousins ​​and nephews helped. You built as far as you could afford, and eventually expanded. Not infrequently it took 10-15 years to get a house finished. 

Tribute to the home. House and home are time, in so many different ways. In the movie, one of the men we meet and marches in front of some Disney characters painted on a wall. He tells of a child in a cradle, which they watched. But the amount of time that has passed since this occurred does not appear. What is certain is that the dream is shattered – bombed and broken – but the memories begin to live as you approach the place where the home once stood.

The film says that time is no longer counted in seconds, hours and minutes, but in bullets, grenades and bombs.

(The fear of) losing their home made it extremely painful for many Syrians to flee. As soon as the bomb attacks calmed down a bit, so many withdrew. There they were not only grateful to have survived; there they also paid tribute to their homes.

Commitment in the small. A human being walks through an unreal world of dust alone. His freshly washed, dark blue T-shirt is the only clean thing as far as the eye can see. The sun roasts the man's back as he purposefully walks in on the remnants of a ruined urban landscape. How do you realize that just a few years ago this was a street in a well-functioning, modern city? Deformed skeletons of houses are the only thing left. 

The echo of children's laughter, quarrels, lovemaking, gossip and gatherings failed to break.

Inside one of these empty shells, a father glowingly tells of what was once a home. It is absurd to hear about children born here, about their first steps and first words – everything the man says appears as coming from a parallel world. He does not seem to heed the disintegrated walls around him, where he is far in the world of memories. I listen to the words, but do not make them relate to the place. The distorted, barren surroundings we witness are by no means associated with children's laughter and hectic everyday sounds. Al-Zouki arouses my commitment: I suddenly perceive the dimensions of the destruction of the war. In each home, the most precious moments of life took place – an infant smiled for the first time, a grandmother closed her eyes for the last time. Absolutely nothing is left that resembles an ordinary life. 

Live in memory. Houses are not just walls – they are homes, vibrant with life. They are security, life stories, belonging and homeland On the Ruins of a Dream is a testimony of a world that has been wiped out, of the many people, neighborhoods, villages, and cities that set themselves against and had to be crushed and crushed to dust only. But the echo of children's laughter, quarrels, lovemaking, gossip and gatherings failed to shatter – it still lives on in the survivors' memories.

Ellen Lande
Ellen Lande
Lande is a film writer and director and a regular writer for Ny Tid.

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