A Requiem for Syrian Refugees (Richard Wolf, 2014)

As one Syrian refugee states in this fine documentary, other than being harmed or killed the worst thing that can happen to any refugee is to be forgotten. Certainly, Syrian refugees – as a group – have been anything but forgotten. There are almost daily reports of movements throughout Europe, deaths on the Mediterranean, and all the politics associated with this massive refugee flow, including, most recently, the report that one of the Paris terrorists had posed as a Syrian refugee. However, while Syrian refugees as a mass phenomenon is well known, there is little information about Syrian refugees as people. Into this vacuum steps the present film.

Although there are occasional scenes showing the violence and destruction in Syria, in the main Requiem shows the viewer the refugee experience after leaving the country. What we see is a lot boredom and hardship. The film tells us that most children do not receive any education in the camps and the monthly allotment of food and other supplies is paltry, at best. On the other hand, there is some semblance of life back in Syria in the form of barber shops, kebab stands, and makeshift games that children and the elderly both play.

Nearly all of those interviewed are unhappy with their lot. To a person, all long for life back home, but it is the life before 2011 when the country’s civil war began. The people we see feel like pawns in an international chess game and of course they are right. But they are also human beings and the greatest strength of Requiem is to bring forth this humanity. One such example of this is the young teenager who has made it her mission to photograph life in the camp as a way of creating new memories since so many of the old ones have been lost back home forever.

Depending on one’s point of view, what adds to the depth of the film – or serves as an unnecessary distraction – is the swelling Requiem music played throughout. Also note that while the film appears in black and white, at the end there is a switch to color when the viewer is introduced to the individuals who we have spent time and who we now are better able to see as people just like ourselves.

Mark Gibney
Dec-2-15

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