Return to Homs
Directed by Talal Derki
Filmed over 3 years in Homs, accompanying 2 outstanding young men from the time they were only dreaming of freedom to the time when they are forced to change course. Basset, the 19yo national football team goalkeeper, who became an outspoken demonstration leader in the city, then an icon revolution singer, till he becomes a fighter... a militia leader. Ossama, his 24yo friend, renowned citizen journalist, cynical pacifist... as his views are forced to change, until he is detained by army secret service. It is the story of a city, of which the world have heard a lot, but never really got closer than news, never really had the chance to experience how a war erupted. a modern times epic of youth in war time.
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★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd
Someone needs to create a video that cuts back and forth between Kirk Douglas walking the trenches in Paths of Glory and the extraordinary shot here that follows a Syrian rebel through a seemingly endless network of abandoned homes connected by human-sized holes smashed through adjacent walls. Quick news reports couldn't convey this viscerally just how horrific conditions were during the siege; you can only gape in disbelief, grateful to have been elsewhere. Derki's voiceover narration, reminiscent of Herr's Dispatches, adds an effective layer of numb weariness, to which Abdul Baset al-Sarout only submits briefly between bursts of action and rousing song. Only real problem is shapelessness: Employing a video-diary approach, Derki shoots as much as he can stomach, it seems, then wraps in a somewhat random spot, well before the eventual ceasefire. (The film premiered in late 2013.) Not that I have any right to insist that others continue risking their lives in search of a satisfying ending, especially when that might well be years away, or never.
★★★½ review by Crawlspace Dweller Matt on Letterboxd
One of those movies that aren't really reviewable. It's not trying to appeal to the viewer by being an entertaining ride with a riveting plot. It's a real documentation of what's happening in Syria in recent years.
It's probably the best insight into the life of the rebels one can get.
★★★★½ review by Sumner Forbes on Letterboxd
The most powerful and emotionally resonant scene in this film occurs about halfway through when Basset, a former soccer player turned revolutionary, falls asleep amidst heavy gunfire. When one thinks of the desensitization that prolonged armed conflict can produce, is there another action or statement that can better represent this? Probably not.
Basset inspires his comrades with an uncanny charisma considering the circumstances. His comrades hang on every word he says; something that’s even more impressive considering that Besset is only twenty years old. Not only is he their tactical leader in battle, he also frequently bursts into song, which is ostensibly the only source of entertainment these battle-hardened young men are able to access.
As of 2015, we have been hearing reports of the Syrian Civil War for four years now. The most heartbreaking part of this reality isn’t the fact that there’s no end in sight; rather, it’s the fact that the people involved in the conflict will likely never recover from the psychological devastation this prolonged conflict has caused. At one point in the film Besset talks about his plans of being a blacksmith after the conflict has concluded and Assad is defeated. Perhaps unbeknownst to him, there is a good chance he will never be able to live like a normal man again.
The real benefit of this film is seeing the carnage on the ground; something that news headlines simply cannot represent accurately. As his comrades fall to the ground and die without any sense of histrionics, we quickly become aware that this film takes us to a place that dramatized war films are unable to. Sobering yet inspiring, this is an effective portrait of men who have lost everyone they have ever known, yet still refuse to give up in the face of almost certain death.
★★★★★ review by ristubasan on Letterboxd
Remarkable film-making, I'm not sure I've seen a more personal wartime documentary.
★★★★ review by Omar on Letterboxd
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