20140403 Border

COPPOLA NicolamariaSyria’s Civil War and the “Border” that kindles hope
by Nicolamaria Coppola for Northern Ireland Foundation
3 April 2014

Syria’s turmoil began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011 in the southern city of Daraa, sometimes called the “Cradle of the Revolution”. The government responded to the protests with large arrests, torture of prisoners, police brutality and censorship of events.

But it also gave something in exchange, in order to cool down the heated spirits. In fact, Assad enacted some political and economic reforms and he released hundreds of political prisoners from jail. But the protests evolved into an armed rebellion, with clashes taking places in many towns and cities across the country.

On the battlefield, the actors are the Syrian government, whose militias are the Syrian Armed Force, the National Armed Force (Shabiha and Jaysh al-Sha’bi) and the Ba’ath Brigades, on one side, and the Syrian opposition made up of several groups, both non-belligerent (Syrian National Coalition) and armed (Free Syrian Army, Mujahideen, Al-Nusra Front, Islamic Front, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), on the other side.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syria’s three-year war has killed more than 150,000 people, with half of the population estimated to have fled their homes, seeking sanctuary either in neighbouring countries or somewhere else in Syria itself. The number of refugees who have left Syria has exceeded 2 million. In Lebanon, there are more than 1 million Syrian refugees. Nearly 600,000 have registered as refugees in Jordan, more than 200,000 in Iraq and about 670,000 in Turkey.

Almost half of the refugees are girls and women, while another quarter are boys under 18. The number of school-aged children is now over 400,000, and the vast majority is out of school.

Refugees have been flowing across the neighbouring countries’ boundaries, and those dangerous crossings are the subject of “Border”, an Italian film about Syria’s Civil War, showed at the 14th Belfast Film Festival.

“Border” is a drama that describes the borders of Syria, both the political and the physical ones, but also the fine line between good and bad, between religious fundamentalism and freedom, between the adherence to the power and traditional principles, with the desire to rise up against societal obligations and impositions.

The directorial debut of the Italian screenwriter Alessio Cremonini depicts a true story that is a portion of reality of a country where nearly 100 people die everyday due to causes related directly or indirectly to the Civil War.

“Border” is halfway between documentary and fiction, and it is based on the true odyssey of two Syrian sisters fleeing their war-torn country in 2012. The film begins with video footage of the war, snipers shooting from rooftops, a hillside town exploding under a hail of explosions and scenes of pro- and anti-government marches. Then the film viewers are taken inside the home of two sisters, Fatima and Aya. Fatima is a new bride. Her husband has gone to war and she lives a quiet life with her sister Aya in the conjugal flat. The sisters are observant Muslims, and they spend a great deal of their time devoted to practising their faith. When news comes that Fatima’s husband has left the Syrian Army to join the Free Army of “rebels”, they are forced to flee their home and their troubled country, to avoid the repercussions of the actions taken by Fatima’s husband. There is really no choice for either woman: they have to escape and reach the border of Turkey to be safe.

They begin their journey, and along the road they meet a mysterious man named Bilal, who is hurrying to get away from Syria for untold reasons. The trip is fraught with several unexpected turns that keep them from moving forward as quickly as anyone had thought.

The film shows the fear and the terror of those who are forced to do something against their will. It depicts the stark, brutal reality of the war, with deception and danger that lie around every corner. During their trip, Fatima and Aya realize that they need to find safety, and they agree that will be safe only in Turkey. They long for the border, which represents their rebirth and kindles their hope. They try to reach it, but the happy ending is not assured.

“Border” is not a perfect film in terms of camera work, direction and performance. Shot in Italy on a 60,000-euro budget from private investors, the actors themselves are even at their first cinematographic experience. They are not professional, but they try to do their best and succeed with dignity.

Although questionable and controversial in terms of movie making, “Border” is a very interesting film because is concerned with the Civil War in Syria that is an ongoing event. “Border” has given voice and visibility to a tragedy that is current but already forgotten, and this is the strong point and the surplus value of this Italian movie.