Starring: Waad Al-Kateab, Hamza Al-Kateab, Sama Al-Kateab
Director: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
Running Time: 100 mins
For Sama is a British/Syrian documentary about the life of a young mother in the besieged city of Aleppo, as the population struggles to survive under relentless bombardment and shelling, while she strives to give her newborn daughter a good childhood against the backdrop of conflict.
As the fighting in Syria still rages on, there are few things more inspiring and eye-catching than a film intimately portraying life under the shadow of war, giving a human story that balances the devastation unfolding to this day with impressively heartening emotional depth.
In that, For Sama is more than just a war documentary, and one of the most emotionally arresting films to tackle the subject that you’ll have seen in a long time. Styled as a letter addressed to director Waad Al-Kateab’s young daughter, the film is deeply personal, with an emotive perspective on living life in conflict that stands head and shoulders above political wrangling and analysis.
Given the contemporary and deeply complex nature of the Syrian Civil War, a documentary tackling the conflict as a whole is a near impossibility, but films like For Sama are what give the people suffering in the war a powerful voice.
And it’s the emotional intimacy that we feel with the Al-Kateab family throughout that really makes this film hit home so strongly, allowing you to witness the unfolding conflict from the eyes of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, fearing for and sympathising with them as they navigate tremendous strife.
Not only does the film allow you to build a deep connection with the family at the centre of the story, but also an affection for the city of Aleppo and its citizens. And in that, while it does often provide moments of heartening and inspiring drama, the devastation brought to the city over years of brutal fighting is all the more agonising to watch unfold.
But if there’s one thing that really sets For Sama apart from the crowd, it’s those moments of heartening emotion. As devastating and relentless as the conflict is, this documentary is a triumphant display of the undefeatable will to stand strong in the face of adversity, as ordinary people do all they can to ensure life goes on.
The film unfolds from the perspective of Waad Al-Kateab’s handheld camera, and in that we see a series of uniquely personal moments that cast aside the terror of war, with friendships, romances and people developing through the years.
For Sama isn’t an entirely devastating portrayal of the hopelessness of life in conflict, but rather a film with an inspiring and positive heart. It never ignores the true hardships of trying to live in the middle of a brutal war, but its core message is about letting life go on, and looking to the future no matter how difficult things may seem.
It’s an excellent theme that really hits home throughout, setting the film apart from other war documentaries that take a more one-dimensional approach of pure devastation to the topic. It’s an emotional watch that provides both heartening and agonising drama, but in the end, For Sama proves an arresting and affecting documentary, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.