Vlissingen 2023 Review: SIRA Survives
Apolline Traoré's new film works as a drama and as an unexpected action thriller.
At the start of Sira we follow a caravan travelling through the Sahel desert, on its way to a wedding. Sira, the daughter of the Muslim people's leader is about to marry into a high-ranked family of Christian farmers, a liaison which is frowned upon by conservative parties on both sides. Still, the two betrothed love each other and have the blessing of their parents, and the wedding is seen as a herald towards a time of peace.
Tragedy strikes though, when the caravan is attacked by Muslim fundamentalist terrorists, who kill all the men and kidnap Sira. The gang's leader rapes Sira and leaves her to die in the middle of the desert, but Sira manages to survive and secretly follows the terrorists to their camp. There she remains in hiding, occasionally sneaking into the camp to steal water and food. But one day she makes contact with the women being kept as sex-slaves in the camp, and together they plan a daring escape from their brutal captors. Meanwhile, Sira's groom starts a desperate search for his bride...
The atrocities seen in Sira do not make it an easy film to watch, but director Traoré takes care not to have her film descend into exploitation. At the same time it does not become a long stretch of misery, because the film focuses on the small victories of Sira, and her will to survive never stops being celebrated. Meanwhile, the evildoers do not get portrayed as stupid caricatures either, their deeds are attributed to a confused mess of faith and adherence to tradition. It makes the film more suspenseful, the danger more believable. And when all hell breaks loose it looks spectacular, this is NOT a cheap production.
While the festival synopsis did spoil the story a bit though (SPOILER ALERT, reading back-to front: kcabyap eb lliw ereht...) knowing in advance what direction the ending takes makes the long wait for some kind of justice a lot more easy to endure. Sira is a strong drama with some thriller elements woven in. I was impressed by it.
The audiences at Vlissingen liked what they saw as well and awarded Sira a rating of 3.9 out of 5.