Hot Docs 2018 Review: “Of Fathers and Sons” (2018) ★★★★★

© BASIS BERLIN Filmproduktion

There are many documentaries made about war. Each and every one of them shows the loss of innocent lives, thousands names that vanish without a trace and the horrors those who survive have to go through. And no matter how many times we watch these films, we still cannot get an answer to a very simple question – because of what does all of this happen? In the name of God? It is not at all the Almighty God but the ideology. And that is a powerful and destructive weapon that will take generations to restore the damages done and the faith lost because of it. Will parents who have buried their children ever feel the taste of beautiful life again or will their lives be like an endless train wreck?

“Of Fathers and Sons” is the director Talal Derki’s personal journey. He has bid goodbye to his wife and son to return to his homeland Syria which he no longer recognizes after all the destruction it has been through. Derki gains the trust of a radical family, pretending he is a photojournalist eager to support the jihadists’ ideology.  He does all of this in order to capture the life of a radical Islamist family and has to meanwhile hide the immense pain he feels deep inside his heart. His camera, as a silent witness, captures all the terrifying dialogues that will, for sure, make you worried about the future of humanity.

The problem is not what they believe in, but what they make their own children believe. They might’ve doomed their children to fall as their fathers on the battlefield, becoming heroes of the most pointless and deadliest ones in the modern history.

There is a scene where Osama and his little brother slaughter a helpless bird, jokingly saying: “We did it the same way our father did to the man last time.”

Abu Osama (45) is the main character of the film. We also meet his sons: thirteen-year-old Osama, who is named after Osama Bin Laden and his younger brother Ayman, who is excited to grow up and represent the Taliban and Al-Qaida at their so-called Holy war. As we get to know Abu Osama and his family, who are deeply religious and faithfully follow the laws of the Shari’ah, Abu teaches his children to be the same as himself. He even appreciates his son’s desire to shoot the girl, who, although is still young to wear a hijab, has already earned the disapproval of the neighbors.

“Of Fathers and Sons” is a painful film to watch. Depending on the culture and background of the viewer, it can be interpreted in many different ways. The filmmaker does make an effort to show Abu Osama as a likable person, but it will still puzzle you, how a father can encourage his young children to enter the military courses to continue the war where there will be no winners. It is disturbingly interesting to see the world through the eyes of Abu Osama.

In the end, Talal Derki says one interesting line: “I want to see what legacy the war will bring.” And that makes me think of the following – did the WW1 or WWII bring anything good to the world? Or any other war for that matter? Aren’t we – the humans the only ones who always suffer? Ironically, it is also us – the humans who always start these dangerous games of war. I truly hope that our generation, as well as the next generations, will get less and fewer wars to witness.

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