VENICE 2022 Orizzonti Extra 'Nezouh' :: (نزوح) "The bombs can’t touch the stars"
by Fabien Lemercier, Cineuropa 04/09/2022
VENICE 2022: By way of an allegory and against a backdrop of female emancipation, Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan explores the dilemma of whether to stay or leave a town destroyed by war.
“’Nezouh’ in Arabic is the displacement of souls, water and people; it is the displacement of light and darkness. “Nezouh” tries to talk about this inevitable invasion of light and hope in the midst of this chaos”, says director Soudade Kaadan.
"The bombs can’t touch the stars". Trusting in the future, overcoming one’s fears, hoping rather than suffering, being pragmatic by shaking off inertia and using your imagination, and, first and foremost, women seizing their independence and turning their backs on the traditional patriarchy: these are the main themes explored by the Syrian filmmaker born in France and based in London Soudade Kaadan in her second feature film Nezouh, presented in the 79th Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti Extra line-up. It’s an allegorical film in the same vein as her first opus The Day I Lost My Shadow (crowned with the Lido’s Future Lion in 2018).
"It’s not the end of the world", "We’ve put all of our money into this apartment. We’re staying!", "The house isn’t that badly damaged. God must really love us to have saved it. I’m happy".
Deep in central Damas and in the thick of war, Motaz (Samir al-Masri) is pushing the boundaries of forced optimism to rare and unseen levels. Because there’s a constant risk of shelling in this nerve-wracking world of suspended time, snipers and armed patrols occupy the town’s deserted and devastated streets, and water, electricity and food are becoming desperately scarce, forcing a family man down dangerous paths. But the fear of becoming a refugee, a stray, is even stronger and Motaz clings on to his home like a limpet to a rock, imposing his outlook on his wife Halla (Kinda Alloush) and their daughter Zeina (Hala Zein). His blinkered vision reaches staggeringly new heights when a bomb blasts huge gaping holes into all the apartment’s walls and in the teenager’s bedroom ceiling, which her father hurries to cover over with fabric.
But brand-new possibilities and potential new beginnings open up for Zeina and her mother in this apartment buried in dust and rubble. And a young neighbour called Amer (Nizar Alani) edges onto the scene, throwing a rope down from the roof (so that Zeina can join him at night) and telling stories about a tunnel which allows people to escape from Damas… The mother and daughter subsequently decide to leave, but the father still won’t hear of it…
Brimming with wonderful surrealist ideas (the sky transforms into the sea on which Zeina skims stones, while the fabric masking the bomb damage swells up like boat sails, etc.) and treading a tragicomic line, Nezouhconveys to perfection the dilemma involved in deciding whether to stay or to leave, the full burden of the surrounding war and the difficulties involved in breaking with the patriarchy’s dominance in society ("you’re like my father: you tell me what I have to do"), mainly thanks to the huis-clos in the first half of the film.
Ultimately, however, despite multiple (perhaps even excessive) efforts in terms of mise en scène, the film’s narrative minimalism and the story’s over-optimistic spirit serve to dilute the force of the message directed at women:"don’t look back."
Nezouh is produced by English outfits Berkeley Media Group and KAF Production (the filmmaker’s own firm) alongside France’s Ex Nihilo. International sales are managed by mk2 films.