To say that a documentary about Gaza is powerful almost seems trite, doesn’t it? That particular parcel of land has been disputed for decades and tragedy after tragedy occurs there. Seemingly almost on a daily basis. So much so that we have become immune to it. Or at least become experts at tuning it out. We don’t see the needless loss of life anymore. Because the solution is not a simple one we, the rest of the world, do not seem invested in the least in engaging in ensuring that no one else dies over land and who has the right to it.
As such, those Palestinians who live in Gaza have almost become invisible to the rest of the world. People we don’t pay any attention to. Italian director Stefano Savone (Tahrir: Liberation Square, Cast Lead) has demonstrated himself as someone who is very interested in what is going on in the Middle East. Having previously directed documentaries about the Arab Spring in Egypt and in 2009 about daily life in Gaza after an Israeli attack, the man is quite familiar with the dynamics and obviously feels compelled to tell their stories.
Samouni Road, which also screened at Cannes earlier this year, is about a family living on the outskirts of Gaza. They have suffered tragic losses in the ongoing conflict in the area. This despite the fact that they don’t seem to be interested in fighting. Instead of showing them as victims or a beaten down people, Savone shows their strength. How they just want to get on with life. They want to plant olive and lemon trees and have weddings. Instead they have to deal with living in bombed out houses without running water and how a mother has to try to keep her family together even with the loss of her husband and a couple of her sons.
The Samouni family lives in the Zeitoun District, a rural part on the outskirts of Gaza City. It is a community made up of farmers. In the face of all this loss, the Samouni are looking towards the celebration of a wedding. This despite the fact that the area has come under attack by the Israeli army. The Zeitoun incident happened in 2009 and claimed the lives of 48 civilians. Almost beyond comprehension is the fact that 29 of those who died were a part of the Samouni family.
Partly done through black and white hand drawn animation by Simone Massi and partly through interviews and drone footage, it is a moving tale of survival in spite of horrible tragedy. The emotional impact is great. You cannot help but be affected by it. Mostly because you are introduced to this “average” Palestinian family, who are nothing like what the media depicts them as. Leads you to understand that there are probably many similar stories to the Samouni family’s.
Conflict for this family seems to be of the emotional and philosophic variety. They acknowledge what has happened, but see the need to move on. The past is something they want to cling to while still moving forward. That is how they see themselves surviving within this horrible existence. None of the Samouni illustrates this better than young Amal. She is a young girl, who says she doesn’t know how to tell a story, then proceeds to break your heart with her memories. Not only did she have to suffer the loss of her father and several brothers, but also has shrapnel in her skull from the attack. Still she moves forward. Trying to find her way in a world dominated by men. A young girl in an inherently patriarchal society. She won’t be pushed aside easily, even by her own brother.
An especially moving part comes right towards the end of the documentary. It involves the mother and her eldest surviving son, who is still a young boy, having a discussion about his future. She is worried. He is steadfast in his claim that he will not get married as he does not want to have a wife and children who will have to grieve his loss as he yearns to be a martyr like his father. Revenge for his father’s death has become his life’s ambition. Showing us the impact of violence and that once it invades a family it is hard to walk away from.
The final scenes of the wedding celebration (though we never see the bride) leave us with some hope. Hope that even here, a place of violence and dispute, that life can go on. That love can survive. That families can provide support.