Since the Syrian Civil war began in 2011, there has been no shortage of documentaries about the plight of the nation’s people, the most memorable among them being Silvered Water, Syrian Self-Portrait (2014) and Feras Fayyad‘s own Last Men in Aleppo (2017). Consider The Cave, Fayyad’s latest capsule of a war-torn state, as a testament to those great works. Essentially a wartime artefact intent on documenting the government’s assault on human rights, the film profiles a hospital built into a cave within Syria’s isolated suburb of Gouta and the female manager at the centre of it. “Let’s keep smiling for the children. That’s all we can do,” Dr. Amani says, as she wades through the literally cavernous hospital she runs, having been thrust into a position of great importance. As she’s a 30-year-old woman, things aren’t easy for her. A man who can’t get access to his medicine berates her for being in charge, telling her she should stay at home. It’s a minor problem for her in the grand scheme of Syria’s desperate plight, but it’s clear that others also feel that way.
The sense of impending doom is palpable, and there is little doubt that, eventually, the war will catch up with the hospital workers. The Cave is edited accordingly, ramping up the severity of the attacks as the detailing the film unfolds: It goes from a harrowing moment in which Amani goes to her office to sob after meeting with a woman whose son was killed by a bomb, and culminates in a scene where children hurt by chemical weapons are admitted into the hospital. “How can I hold back the tears while watching humanity being destroyed right in front of me?” Amani asks, visibly broken by what she has seen. Films like The Cave will be valuable in years to come, when a war such as this has run its course and been consigned to the history books. Fayyad’s brave, bold filmmaking gives us an inside look at a living nightmare, revealing the distressing ordeal of a people betrayed by their own ruler.
Published as part of October 2019’s Before We Vanish.