‘Nezouh’ – The Venice review
When their home in Damascus is bombed and all of their windows are blown out, most of their ceilings crumble, and all of their belongings are covered in dust and debris, Father Motaz, played by the extraordinary Samir al-Masri , exclaims “God really loves us, he spared our house!” And that, in one line, explains the spirit of Soudade Kaadan’s second narrative feature Nezuh.
The word “nezouh” as it is read on the black screen at the very beginning of the film, means “the movement of water, people or things” and Motaz, the head of the family, wants his family don’t feel it. As a responsible man for his wife Hala and their teenage daughter Zeina, he does his best to stay together as the world literally crumbles around him.
Kaadan’s beautifully poetic film is anything but another ode to poverty pornography or a celebration of the explosions and destruction in Syria. After all, we can watch it on the news, so why would we need it in the cinema… Nezuh Rather, it’s a fable of two women and the men who love them (well, a man and a boy really) and the power and magic that love carries within it.
While Kaadan’s first film The day I lost my shadowwhich also had its world premiere in Venice in 2018, perhaps left me a little perplexed at times, Nezuh completely captured my attention and imagination from start to finish. Kaadan has proven to be a voice to be reckoned with in world cinema and I look forward to what she does next, as her style and delivery has changed so drastically from project to project.
In Nezuhit also called on four spellbinding actors, among them al-Masri but also Kinda Alloush, in the role of Hala the mother, Hala Zein in the role of the daughter Zeina and Nizar Alani in the role of the young neighbor Amer – who captures Zeina’s imagination and our hearts.
As their neighbors disappear and the neighborhood is left in a heap of rubble, Motaz fights to prevent himself and his family from being displaced – and yet another statistic in the refugee crisis. But Zeina discovers freedom, and her first love in this newly “decorated” house, where the flowery sheets become blinds, awnings and a curtain that opens onto the stage of the imagination. Behind this curtain, Hala and Zeina see an ocean, but also the open sky, and the possibilities there are endless.
Enter Amer, the boy next door literally — well, if doors still existed in this bombed-out landscape — a vision of kindness and kindness but also a young man who amassed a collection of tech gadgets from a team news that left town in a hurry. Alani plays him quietly handsome, and the scenes between him and pretty Zein are some of the cutest, most truthful love scenes I’ve seen in recent cinema. It also helps that for Kaadan Italian neorealism, and in particular the cinema of Vittorio de Sica, is a constant inspiration. A world where the child becomes the parent and vice versa, as in bike thief, which for the Syrian filmmaker was a starting point for this project.
Al-Masri’s desperation and wasted energy keeping the leaky boat that is the family’s life and home in Damascus afloat is palpable throughout the film, making him a very likable male character for the Arab cinema. His emotional vulnerability is so contrasted with his broad and masculine physical appearance that it also creates lighthearted moments, which even inspired a few laughs during the screening I attended. What the film lacks is the pathos that I find so unattractive in telling a story about the Region.
It is also fascinating to finally be confronted with the human reasons for the mass exodus that we have seen coming from Syria since 2011. In Europe, we observe the refugee crisis from the front lines, but we never manage to cast a an inside look at the motivation of this movement. . No one leaves their country by choice and Nezuhwe are given the backstory and insight to finally understand where, emotionally and geographically, displacement is first occurring.
Ultimately, Kaadan’s film is a must-see and part of the reason why – an important aspect in any cinema in my humble opinion – is the visual delight of Nezuh, with the kind authorization of its directors of photography Helene Louvart and Burrak Kanbir but also of its artistic director Osman Ozcan. The film was shot in Turkey, as Syria is obviously out of the question for Kaadan and most Syrians, and the crew, led by Ozcan, had to recreate a Syrian home from scratch.
While the film doesn’t make a political statement or clearly state Kaadan’s political stance (and he doesn’t really need to!), it is an obvious statement about the power of cinema and its ability to change the world — to change our awareness of it and refine our point of view.
And just for that, Nezuh is an absolute winner.
UK/Syria/France/Qatar, 2022, 103 mins
Director/Writer: Soudade Kaadan
Producers: Yu-Fai Suen, Soudade Kaadan, Marc Bordure
Executive production: Yuan Zhang, Alaa Karkout, iBen Coren, Daniel Batsek, Donna Gigliotti, Farhana Bhula, Lizzie Francke, Peter Luo
Ass. Producer: Amira Kaadan, Yuxin Liu
Photography: Hélène Louvart, Burrak Kanbir
Editors: Soudade Kaadan, Nelly Quettier
Music: Rob Lane, Rob Manning
Cast: Hala Zein, Kinda Alloush, Samir al-Masri, Nizar Alani, Darina Al Joundi, Nabil Abousalih and Samer Seyyid Ali.
Internal. Sales: mk2 Films