Feras Fayyad’s stunning debut documentary, the Oscar-nominated Last Men in Aleppo, offered a captivating glimpse into the Syrian war. Through the eyes of the White Helmets, who provide medical assistance on the ground, the film captured the true horrors of war in a sobering and jaw-dropping manner. If that film cemented Fayyad as a director to watch, then his latest film The Cave solidifies him as one of this generation’s gifted and important filmmakers.
Filmed from 2016 to 2018, Fayyad takes viewers to the crumbling city of Ghouta. Located near Damascus, the city is caught in the middle of a war between various fractions, including the Syrian regime and ISIS. For the citizens the sounds of warplanes and bombings are a terrifying daily reality.
The city is especially harrowing for the medical staff who operate out of an underground hospital. Built within a series of narrow tunnels and bomb shelters, the facility is bursting at the seams with wounded civilians. Led by Dr. Amani Ballour, a young Syrian woman, and running out of resources, everyday is a fight to keep their patients alive.
A powerful tale of bravery, compassion and resilience, The Cave is a remarkable film. Fayyad skillfully let’s the horrors that the people of Ghouta find themselves facing wash over the film. As the sound of warplanes thunderously echo through the tunnels, the thin the line between life and death is hard to ignore.
When Dr. Amani remarks that she is witnessing “humanity be destroyed in front of her,” the gravity of her words pierces one soul.
Even in such a dire situation, Fayyad’s film exposes how sexism can still run rampant in times of crisis. Shielded by the cloak of religion, men frequently treat women like second class citizens in this society. At one point, Dr. Amani is forced to confront a man who feels that women should not be running medical facilities. The patriarchal sentiment that women should be tending to the home is heartbreakingly echoed when a mother, of several ailing children, refuses a job at the hospital because the men in her family would look down on it.
Through all the destruction, gender suppression and nervous tension that surrounds the film, Fayyad still manages to find glimmers of hope and levity throughout. Much of this is achieved through Dr. Amani whose sense of duty and compassion is inspiring to say the least. She does not hide the fear she has when a bomb strikes nearby, or the guilt she has for attempting to keep up her strength while other starve. Her honesty allows her humanity to radiate like a beacon in the night.
It is this light within Dr. Amani that allows the viewer to navigate the devastation Fayyad’s camera captures. As her co-worker points out to Dr. Amani, “people will forget about the war, but they won’t forget about you.” They won’t soon forget The Cave either.