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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
In one of many startling moments in the documentary For Sama, a first-person account of life during the siege of Aleppo, Syria, the camera watches the face of the filmmaker's baby daughter as bombs go off outside. The girl, Sama, looks entirely unfazed. In this rebel-held section of Aleppo, where Sama spent the first year of her life, the sounds of bombs are simply normal—the only world she has ever heard.
For Sama captures the details of Syrian daily life. Waad al-Khateab, who shares directing credit with Edward Watts, filmed the movie herself, and her diary-like perspective removes any sense of distance that might come from watching these images on TV news. We see what's it's like to live in a home that suddenly fills with smoke or where the lights go out; what it's like to hold a wedding where the songs compete with noise from explosions; or what it's like to warm yourself with hot shrapnel—all as if it's simply normal.
Al-Khateab, who narrates, describes the movie as a letter to Sama, who was born on the first day of 2016 and, for the remainder of that year, lived in a hospital with her parents. Fighting in the city officially ended that December, when forces challenging Bashar al-Assad's government withdrew. One of the things that affords her such amazing access is that the man she eventually married, Hamza, is a doctor and activist. When a hospital he works at is bombed—the death toll is given as more than 50, including the doctor who checked Sama's first vital signs—he helps set up a new one.
For Sama proceeds non-chronologically, shuffling between 2012 and 2016, and the fragmentation helps to heighten the sense of desensitization; when al-Khateab talks about wandering out of the hospital with Sama because she needed to see people alive for a change, the sense of the disarray and delirium of war is palpable. So is the humanity.