There are times when the moral quandary involved in making art is just as fascinating as the work itself. Of Fathers and Sons finds Berlin-based Syrian director Talal Derki returning to his war-torn homeland and posing as a jihad-sympathizing war photographer. In Syria, Derki infiltrates and observes a jihadist family fighting as part of the Al-Nusra.

What he captures is a haunting, raw and melancholic look at just how deep extremist ideologies have penetrated the hearts of generations of men and boys.

Abu Osama is a bomb specialist who wanted to be part of the movement ever since the Taliban defeated Russia when he was a teenager. He loves his children deeply and longs for the day when his kids, especially sons Osama and Ayman, will be able to join the fight.

It is through the children that Derki shows just how chilling the situation really is. The boys spend their days roughhousing, playing in burnt out tanks and fashioning makeshift bombs with household items. They are inundated with daily jihadist propaganda long before we see them at “military camp”, a brutal training ground for grooming future soldiers. At one point, Abu even quips to friends that one of his boys wanted to shoot their two-year-old cousin for not wearing a hijab outside.

What makes this film even more disturbing is the fact that Derki juxtaposes these scenes with tender intimate moments between Abu and his children. These genuine moments of humanity are bittersweet as the horrors of war always looms over them. While the ethics of Derki’s decision to falsify himself to gain access to family can be debated, it all makes for a stunning work. Of Fathers and Sons is a heartbreaking tour through a nightmare with no clear end in sight.

Screens:
Friday, April 27, 3:45 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, April 28, 10:15 AM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, May 5, 5:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre

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