Ayouni review – a raging lament for Syria's 'disappeared'

Yasmin Fedda’s powerful documentary lays bare the human cost of the Assad regime and salutes those who continue to fight

Director Yasmin Fedda, who is from a Palestinian and Syrian background and lectures in film at Queen Mary University of London, has created a powerful and urgent documentary tribute to those who have been “forcibly disappeared” by the Assad regime in Syria, estimated to be around 150,000 since 2011.

Fedda focuses on two people: dissident writer and computer programmer Bassel Khartabil, who was abducted in October 2015 in Damascus, and Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, the hugely popular and admired Christian priest who was taken in July 2013 in Raqqa. She uses existing video of these two, from various family members and organisations, along with her own footage showing the campaigns of the loved ones left behind with their burden of anguish and their need to battle on and bring these crimes to the world’s attention.

In particular, we talk to Bassel’s wife, Noura Ghazi, and Paolo’s sister Immacolata, or Machi. Their testimony is deeply moving: they are courageous, stoic, determined. It is heartbreaking to see Noura, so young and joyous in Bassel’s company, then careworn and marooned in a spiritual void of uncertainty about whether Bassel is alive or dead. It is wrenching also when Machi tells us of the choice she has to make: to stop thinking about her brother or to endure the pain of continuing to campaign, to post online, to keep the search alive, but with it the danger of unthinkably raw grief. As she poignantly puts it: “I prefer to take the risk of hoping.”

The forcibly disappeared of Syria emerge from this film as comparable to los desaparecidos of Argentina in the dark days of the junta – a tyranny that was brought low at least partly due to the women who bore public witness to those taken.

  • Released on 26 February on True Story.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Cave review – horror and hope in a Syrian hospital battered by war
This powerful, immensely moving documentary follows the courageous medical staff who must treat injured children as bombs fall around them

Cath Clarke

06, Dec, 2019 @12:00 PM

Article image
Sabaya review – extraordinary documentary shows struggle to free women kidnapped by Isis
Hogir Hirori’s film follows Mahmud as he and his team of volunteers infiltrate the dangerous al-Hawl camp in Syria to liberate Yazidi women trafficked as sex slaves

Phuong Le

18, Aug, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
For Sama review – searing story of a Syrian warzone baby
A student documenting the siege of Aleppo kept filming when she became pregnant. The result is a profoundly moving study of horror and hope

Mike McCahill

12, Sep, 2019 @12:00 PM

Article image
Sabaya: the shocking documentary filmed inside Syria’s notorious al-Hawl camp
With car chases and shootouts, it may feel like a Hollywood action flick, but, as the director, Hogir Hirori, explains, the film is really about the exploited women and girls there

Ellen E Jones

12, Aug, 2021 @2:14 PM

Article image
Freedom Fields review – Libyan female footballers hit back of the net
Nahiza Arebi’s visually arresting documentary focuses on the courage of the country’s fledgling national women’s team

Phil Hoad

30, May, 2019 @12:00 PM

Article image
Mayor review – grappling with reality inside Ramallah city hall
Ramallah’s leader Musa Hadid navigates diplomatic stresses and day-to-day problems in this love letter to the West Bank

Peter Bradshaw

29, Dec, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
The Dissident review – inside track on grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Turkey’s president blew the gaff on how the dissident Saudi author was killed, providing plentiful material for this gripping documentary

Peter Bradshaw

05, Mar, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Tinderbox review – a thoughtful contribution to the Israel/Palestine debate
Director Gillian Mosely grew up in a Jewish, pro-Zionist home, but came to question her beliefs – a tension she explores in a series of evenhanded and sympathetic interviews in the Middle East

Peter Bradshaw

21, Mar, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
Fadia’s Tree review – Palestinian refugee’s plaintive yearning for a homeland
Portrait of a refugee dreaming of home in a sensitive, sombre documentary that also has thoughts about friendship, politics and birds

Peter Bradshaw

04, Aug, 2022 @9:12 AM

Article image
Eleven Days in May review – heart-wrenching documentary on the grimness of life in Gaza
Michael Winterbottom’s film focuses on human cost of 11 days of bombing that killed more than 60 Palestinian children

Peter Bradshaw

04, May, 2022 @12:00 PM