Cairo 2014 Review: SILVERED WATER, SYRIA SELF PORTRAIT Will Break Your Heart
We often see fleeting images of war and its victims, or brief scenes of torture on the news, but these are often presented in a sensational way, or sometimes sanitized, or more than often, ignored if they are happening in parts of the world we would rather forget. To both show and interpret images from the civil war in Syria, directors and writers Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan put together footage taken by Berdixan and civilians on mobile phones, and weave it together with their email correspondence and thoughts: Berdixan in Homs, Syria, and Mohammed in exile in Paris. Mohammed left Syria in 2011; Berdixan contacts him to ask about how to be a filmmaker; their correspondence, and this film, are the result. Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait is harrowing, not for the faint of heart, and poetic even in its depiction of the most terrible tragedy.
Consider this a warning as oppose to a spoiler: there are images of violence, torture and death. While I wouldn't categorize them as graphic, per se, as they are not sensationalized, they are very real. Only the editing of the more grainy images taken by '1001' Syrians (as the introduction suggests) with more professional footage by Berdixan and her correspondence with Mohammed make it bearable, though just barely. But then, such images should not be born.
The structure is set up less as a strict documentary, and more of an elegy or poem. There is poetry in Mohammed and Berdixan's writing to each other, and their own thoughts on their respective positions: Mohammed one of helplessness, alone in exile, unable to fully comprehend or intervene; and Berdixan one of determination to film, fear in the constant threat of death, and a creeping resignation to the horrors she encounters. Homs is practically obliterated, and there are bodies of humans and animals in the street, while the living are in a constant state of shock.
While footage of children might be seen as perhaps exploitative, if this is the case, it is with good reason: there might be no other way to convey to the audience the extent of the destruction and death. As Berdixan seeks direction from Mohammed on what to film, so this moves the construction of the images into a cohesive whole, from grainy images taken by civilians to Berdixan's more polished (but no less difficult to watch) approach.
Taken together - the correspondence, the images and excellent score - this elegy is arguably far more effective in conveying its message of the truth of the Syrian civil war than any news report or more straight-forward documentary could hope to be. Even as I write this, the images are now fixed in my head. There is no news reporter or talking-head expert who will analyze the situation so the audience can assume that someone or some organization or government department is looking into the situation. The onus is on us, as cinema viewers who cannot and must not look away, and citizens, to understand through the elegy that this needs to be stopped. It also reflects on our own desire to document, and how effective it can be when documenting that which needs to be seen. In Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait, the power of change lies not only with the filmmakers, but with the citizen, and that is a call to arms that we all must answer.