Hot Docs Review: Return to Homs [Talal Derki, 2014]


You glance up from your off-balanced stance on a hole in the wall. There is a wrought iron gate; or, at least it used to be. Someone spent a few months of sweat and tears earning it. And now you trespass the threshold it once protected with impunity, into the ghostly lives of others: a TV here, a dresser there, and nothing but gunshots stir. You are searching for someone through this scattering of domesticity. He was a junior football star. You will ask of him to become more, and he will gladly comply. A construction worker, grave digger, singer/songwriter, amateur guerrilla soldier, even a symbol of hope, perhaps. But mostly a brother with whom to share. First life, then death.

Unwittingly and inappropriately romantic? Sure. But Return to Homs is just such a story. It manages to fly right between the haunting dichotomy of beauty and horror, landing safely in warm fuzzy blankets. Shot throughout the 2011 uprising and continuing siege of Homs, Syria, it centers on one rebel fighter (and off-screen, his extraordinarily conjoined cameraman) who couldn’t get the honorable ideal of freedom for his people out of his head, even as he continued to expend his 9 lives as a revolutionary. The transformation from peaceful protest to bloody rebellion was swift, and before long the film becomes a war documentary. Being from a war zone did not deter the cinematography – some of the footage is surprisingly well composed and the editing is at times dead/bang on (puns intended…).

This is probably one of the most light-hearted war documentaries that I have ever seen. I say that without making light of the hardship they are still trying to cope with. Perhaps due to the indefatigable optimism and determination of the protagonist, there was always renewed hope. Some may find it exemplary, I found it unnerving. Each on-screen death seems to generate gravity, lulling one into the false sense that some arbitrarily staggering body-count will eventually be sufficient that victory cannot escape their grasp. The more I describe it, however, the more I might introduce bias. So I will simply recommend this film. There are still active civil or violent protests out there in many countries in distinct parts of the world – a trend that may come to be the defining character of this decade. This is a film you owe to yourself, so that you can make sense of your place in the world.

Isabel Bader Theatre, Sat, May 3, 1:30 PM
Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs