Everyday Life in a Syrian Village (1976) - Omar Amiralay


Country: Syria
Language: Arabic

Orignial Uploader Comment:

I found this extraordinary film on Cinema Obscura, and noticed KG doesn't have any of this director's work. After watching three minutes of the first scene, which is of a group of children burying a camel skeleton with handfuls of sand, and then three minutes of the next which is of the lesson given to the village school by a party educated teacher about the peasants' new combine harvester, you know this is one of the most penetrating documentaries you will have ever seen,.... I offer it to you whole, the description which follows is also taken direct from Cinema Obscura

"I post this noticing a bit of an absence of quality Arab films up on CO. This is an absolutely extraordinary piece of work by the (in my view) most important, surprising, and talented filmmaker to come out of the Middle East (I know that’s a bold claim – check his work out before you scoff…).

His work is notoriously hard to find (its all banned in Syria and only rarely appears at retrospectives and festivals internationally). I have a few of the most exciting films and if this up attracts attention and enough people seem to be interested I can upload these and maybe some more great Syrian stuff in due course.

For now – his first feature documentary: Everyday Life in a Syrian Village. The film is, on the face of it, a realist doc which does what it says on the tin; it assembles gorgeously edited scenes of daily life in a remote agricultural community on the eastern desert border with Iraq. This in itself is a treat – the softly shifting landscapes and haunting sandstorms, contemplative shots of people of all ages and trades at work in a remarkable setting, and some extraordinary intimate footage of religious rituals and practices.

But under the surface (and some of this may or may not be lost on those unfamiliar with the basic trajectories of Syrian political history) is a much larger project – and a much more incendiary one; one that continues to characterise all Amiralay’s work. The film subtly, but bitingly, interrogates the state regime and its attempts to bring an order and new frame of organisation to organic and rich Syrian ways of life. Never using voice-over, Amiralay does this through stinging juxtapositions – for instance, he cuts instantly from an incredible scene showing the traditional Shi’ite Ashura ritual celebrations (hypnotic music, trances, speaking in tongues…) to a scene where the local party official for culture presents a travelling program of educational-film-screenings to the village who look blank or bemused as they are instructed about culture by men in suits. In other scenes, party-education curricula compels the teacher to instruct tent-dwelling pupils on bathing practices and optimal personal hygiene.

If you are interested in political cinema and the Middle East, I cannot recommend this film enough; Amiralay is a master filmmaker (who trained in France rather than Moscow, where most of his compatriot filmmakers got their trade) and his satirical genius blows me away every time. As I said, I want to see if this attracts interest and if people are into it – I have a bucket more of his and other Syrian stuff which can follow.

NB – quick note on the titles : the original print had embedded French subtitles, this version has an opaque black matte over these with the English overlaid. The translation is decent, coming from the Arabic, not via the French."

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