In the year that Europe has been bombarded with news of the Syrian crisis, Sean McAllister’s personal and harrowing BBC documentary ‘A Syrian Love Story’ films it’s escalation with a fresh perspective. Through the eyes of a close-knit family, he exposes the beauty and passion of their nation and the heart-breaking consequences for those who have to leave it behind.
Starting 18 months before the Arab Spring, the documentary begins by portraying Syria as an up and coming tourist destination. However, as he delves for a “real story”, the underlying turbulence of the Syrian government is exposed.
Images of President Bashar plaster the screen, featuring on posters, decorative plates and children’s school books, hinting at his worryingly Stalin-like status. Amer, found by McAllister on the street one night, is all too happy to affirm this likeness as he tells the story of his wife, Raghda; imprisoned for being a democratic revolutionary. Amer explains that, after spending 9 months in prison, Raghda has become “a flag for the people”. Her sons, who wait at home for her with Amer, are unashamedly devoted to their mother whilst at the same time wishing she could come back to them. This combination of proud adoration and heart-breaking sorrow makes for an emotional reunion when Raghda is finally released, and it seems that this family of fighters are impossible to break.
However, these heart warming scenes do not last for long. A twist of events sees McAllister thrown into prison himself, forcing the whole family to flee to Lebanon and causing tensions to rise. In Lebanon, Raghda continues her fight for Syria’s freedom, whilst Amer longs for a safer life in Europe. The laughter and affection once shared between husband and wife becomes replaced with tension and bitterness and it is clear that their love is trapped in Syria, where the death toll has now escalated to 150,000. “She’s a very strong woman, I am a weak man,” says Amer, highlighting the differences that are beginning to tear them apart. The pull to save the destruction of Syria eventually becomes too much for Raghda and she abandons her family to fight for the cause.
By 2013, the family have been reunited and are living as refugees in the South of France. Touching scenes of the boys speaking fluent French to their new school friends demonstrates the way they have finally become accepted members of their community; “I am not an Arab, I am not English, I am French” says 9 year old Bob. However, even the boys can see the damage that the journey has had on their parent’s relationship. “Do you think mum and dad will ever get back together?” asks 17 year old Kaka to McAllister, before answering himself “I don’t think so”.
In the end it is clear that by losing their homeland, Amer and Raghda have also lost their love. Once “comrades”, with a shared determination for freedom, they have become bitter counterparts with differing desires in life. Through McAllister’s intimate relationship with this family, the Syrian tragedy becomes more than just images of anonymous bodies on the streets. It becomes an engaging and heart-breaking story about the destruction of love, marriage and identity. ‘A Syrian Love Story’ is available on iPlayer until 28th October.
Featured image from Tenfoot Films.