For anyone who has felt outraged by the dehumanisation of refugees across the media, A Syrian Love Story is a welcome tonic. Filmed over 5 years, the film documents the relationship between Raghda and Amer. Ragdha is released from prison after serving time for her activism against the Assad regime in Syria, and this is where the film begins.
Her youngest son has passed milestones without her there to witness them, her teenage boys are growing, and Amer has longed for his wife’s return. Having met in prison in their youth, Ragdha and Amer are no strangers to the drama that such a conflict creates. But as time passes, and the family leave Syria for Lebanon (director Sean McAllister was actually arrested during filming) Radgha is wrenched from a country that is part of her very being. Syria is as much as part of her identity as being a mother or a wife, she’s ruined from her experiences in prison and it’s clear that she’s dissatisfied in her marriage to Amer. She is fighting to maintain her identity in a system where having an identity is dangerous.
Perhaps it’s easy coming from a country where conflict is never on the doorstep, not to comprehend or even consider the effects of such an unnatural environment on a relationship. So often when war is depicted in cinema, when it is intended to be viewed by an audience who will probably never have those experiences, to whom war is an abstract, other thing, there is the recounting of the horrors of the battleground, of the bombs and the bodies. It’s easy to forget about the normal ups and downs of life in general, but romantic relationships still need to be maintained and worked on.
McAllister casts a non-judgmental eye on a couple and their three children, who are simply fighting to exist. It would be easy to sentimentalise or dramatise, but McAllister avoids doing so, and his measured attitude allows his subjects to tell their story in their own way. Tragedies of war cannot be measured through a body count, and McAllister tells a story that’s universal in its nature, yet unique through his ability amongst all the madness to latch on to something that in comparison to the broader story may seem small, but when viewed in close up, is just as sad and dramatic as things are when they are happening to us.
It’s a simple idea, a simple story with moments of tenderness that pierce through the chaos, and is a reminder there is humanity in the most inhumane of conditions. A wonderful, powerful piece of filmmaking.