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Under the Sky of Damascus 2023 Movie Review
Everyday life in Syria is shaped not only by years of war, but also by internalized misogyny and violence against women in the family and at work. It is not talked about, harassment seems commonplace as an expression of authority. Many women are pathologized and committed to psychiatry, even extreme abuse is rarely reported. A collective of young actresses comes together in Damascus to research the topic.
The fact that patriarchal violence is not a sociological abstraction, but an everyday reality, not only for the collective of young actresses in the Berlinale documentary by the director trio Heba Khaled , Talal Derki ( Of Fathers and Sons ) and Ali Wajeeh , is a long-established fact. Nevertheless, the immediacy of mistreatment and abuse, which permeates the reflected report in every respect, sharpens the view of the dimension of systemic oppression. The latter occupies the theater professionals in front of the camera on more than a creative level.
However, the initial situation itself has something exemplary and stage-like about it, which sometimes calls into question the transparency of the staging. The personal and professional background of Grace, Farah, Eliana, Inana and Souhir, who are working on a play about the radical misogyny in their Syrian homeland, remains blurred. The production itself also feels more like a pretext for the research, which traces a harrowing but unsurprising pattern of systematized hate.
The protagonists don’t even have to search. One visit to a factory or social center for nonverbal women is enough to hear reports of sadistic humiliation, habitual abuse, and rape. Violence begins in the family, continues in school and apprenticeship and finally becomes part of professional life. A criminal complaint tends to worsen the situation of those affected, in which the actors ultimately have to find themselves and question themselves.
The gruesome but expected conclusion of the documentary investigation by Heba Khaled, Talal Derki and Ali Wajeeh is one’s own powerlessness in the face of normalized misogyny. The complicity of state institutions and organizations becomes an additional risk for those affected, who mostly suffer in silence. The fact that the art activists in the focus of the film decided against it seems more like a symbolic act than a victory in the face of a problem that neither they nor the directing duo are able to cope with.