DUBAI: Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan, who will showcase her lauded second feature film “Nezouh” at the ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival on Dec. 7, is no stranger to telling stories of conflict. But while other filmmakers may look to the violence and the tragedy, Kaadan turns to hope and the whimsical to bring context to the horrors.
“Because the experience is still so traumatic and so harsh and difficult and clear, (I) only could express my story with magical realism,” said Kaadan in a virtual interview with Arab News.
The filmmaker is excited to attend RSIFF 2022, saying the film festival has supported “Nezouh” from day one. “Antoine Khalife (director of Arab programs and film classics for the RSIFF) loved the film from the first cut. Even Kaleem Aftab (head of international programing) supported the film from the beginning, even before it was picked at the Venice Film Festival. I feel as a program and a festival, Red Sea is appreciating the stories we are telling,” said Kaadan.
Kaadan, who was born in France but moved to Syria as a child, started writing the script of “Nezouh” in 2013. At the time she had just fled the war-torn country with her sisters, and had also wrapped up writing her first feature “The Day I Lost My Shadow.”
For the coming-of-age drama “Nezouh,” she was inspired by a photo of a bomb-damaged house in Syria. In her director’s statement on the Venice Film Festival’s website, Kaadan states that “Nezouh” in Arabic is the “displacement of souls, water and people; it is the displacement of light and darkness.”
“It started actually from a real photo of a bombed building, completely dark and destroyed. And there’s light invading the place from a hole in the ceiling. And this real image made me think it’s a metaphor and feel immediately that this is the image of my next film. It’s a metaphor of what happened in the country. It’s a tragic, tragic situation, but we can still find hope and light,” said Kaadan, who now lives in London.
“Nezouh” sees Syrian actors Samer Al-Masri and Kinda Alloush play a husband and wife who are in conflict over whether to stay in their besieged hometown of Damascus or flee and become refugees. In the meantime, their 14-year-old daughter, played by newcomer Hala Zein, watches her world quite literally open up when a missile rips a hole in the roof and her neighbor, played by fellow newcomer Nizar Alani, throws down a rope.
Discovering Hala Zein
While the parents in the film are played by established Syrian actors, finding the 14-year-old protagonist took some time and effort. “She’s the spirit of the film and had to be someone who could carry the film,” said Kaadan.
“So, one week before rehearsals, she was having dinner with her family and someone from casting spotted her and she wasn't thinking at all to be an actress. But when she came to the casting, I immediately knew she could make it. She was strong, she was innocent, she was spontaneous, and she was also brave,” added Kaadan, visibly proud of her young lead star.
The filmmaker went on to explain the rigorous exercises Zein had to go through to be able to carry out the scenes where she had to climb a rope to reach the roof. “We had a safety team and a harness standing by in case she couldn’t (climb the rope) but every time she did it. We kept laughing because we were paying all this money for a team of people we didn’t need,” added Kaadan, still chuckling at the memory.
The Red Sea International Film Festival runs until Dec. 10.