The Movie Waffler New to VOD - NEZOUH | The Movie Waffler


A family in Damascus is divided over whether to stay in their home or face an uncertain life as refugees.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by:
Soudade Kaadan

Starring: Samer Al Masri, Kinda Alloush, Hala Zein, Nizar Alani

Nezouh poster

The conflict which affects the Middle Eastern family unit of Soudade Kaadan's Nezouh is never truly specified: the narrative is located within Damascus, but indexical features such as technology and clothes could be from 10 years ago or yesterday, such is the meagre bricolage of what Zeina (Hala Zein), Hala (Samer al Masri) and Mutaz (Samir Almasri) have scrambled together in war torn Syria, a doomed milieu where even fresh water is precious.

Nezouh review

We open with a tight shot of tween Zeina hidden beneath furniture, etching an illustration into the torch lit wood, establishing Nezouh's expressive use of space. A transition takes us to the source of violent noise - not, as we may fear, the sound of warfare, but a recently repaired combustion engine which paterfamilias Mutaz has been working on in the front room of the family's small, storied flat. Mum Hala is in the background, thinking, tense... The scene exemplifies the family dynamic of Nezouh: Mutaz is a cheerful optimist, who wants to provide for his family, yet is restricted by his context; Zeina is a child with a fanciful imagination while Hala is careful and cautious.

Fairly soon there is another massive loud noise in the flat: this time an actual bomb which blows the windows of the apartment, leaves a perfect metre wide hole above Zeina's bed, and leaves the living space looking like, well, like a bomb has hit it. The family, however, are mercifully unharmed. Views from the recently perforated homestead reveal a concrete conurbation of similarly jagged buildings and ruined homes (the location photography is poignant because it reminds the viewer that this situation was/is a reality). I mean, where would you go if a bomb blasted a hole in your ceiling? Neighbours, friends? If they're in the city, chances are that they're in similarly precarious straits, as illustrated by the cluster of residents from the opposite high rise, also bombed yet shouting cheerful support. As a character says, "laughter is the best medicine..."

Nezouh review

The surreality of how cheerfully people respond to acts of war, of how quotidian the destruction and terror is within Nezouh, is compounded by the film's magic realism bent which comes courtesy of Zeina, who daydreams that the hole in her ceiling is a portal to another world. In evocative and poetic scenes, the blue sky becomes the infinite ocean with the night stars skimming stones. One day, a pretty neighbourhood boy pokes his head through the hole, too. Amer (Nizar Alani) is an amateur filmmaker, and, in the course of their budding friendship, shows Zeina footage of the oceans she so dreams of (for a while, there is a reading that suggests Amer may be an imaginary friend, too, such is his beatific nature). The conceit is clear and subtly chilling. The only escape that innocent Zeina enjoys is through her imagination, but creative thoughts are no barrier against falling bombs or the encroaching army...

As this is going on, seen in glimpses is the growing conflict between Mutaz and Hala. She wants to leave and take Zeina, while Mutaz is determined to stick around. The situation is precarious: if they stay, then they, and, it is suggested, especially the women, risk the wrath of the marauding army. But if they go, then they are in the wild, with no shelter. As Mutaz argues, they would be living in "streets, car parks, camps," and there is the unresolved matter of Zeina's older sister who escaped but has since seemingly disappeared with no contact... Kaadan draws her characters with a careful, even hand, sympathising with the sense of pride which Mutaz clings to, and his shame of not living up to it.

Nezouh review

Nezouh's dichotomy of inside/outside is literalised in the film's final act, where certain characters do leave the apartment, canvassing the wide ranges of the city and the treacherous surrounding spaces. With their picaresque air, perhaps some of the film's tightly wound power is diminished in these final scenes, but by then we're deeply invested in the narrative with its charming and immensely likeable characters. If there is a happy ending, then it is welcome: a surprising twist which is as transient and rarefied as one of Zeina's daydreams.

Nezouh is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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