×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Queens of Syria’

Euripides’ 'The Trojan Women' gives Syrian refugees the opportunity to express their own feelings of loss and exile.

With:
Omar Abu Saada, Nanda Mohammad. (Arabic dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3603948/reference

Syrian refugees in Jordan incorporate their stories of exile while workshopping Euripides’ “The Trojan Women” in Yasmin Fedda’s straightforward, absorbing documentary “Queens of Syria.” For this non-professional cast, the ancient text offers opportunities to express feelings of loss in the form of group therapy, adding an additional layer of poignancy to an already deeply charged play. Helped along by development funds and Indiegogo, Fedda’s low-budget pic, stemming from the touring “Syria Trojan Women Project,” is ideal for PBS-type broadcasts. Abu Dhabi’s prize for best director from the Arab world should increase the film’s fest exposure.

Since 2013, more than 1 million Syrians have declared refugee status  that’s just the ones making it official. Jordan hosts more than 600,000 of them, and it’s there, in the capital Amman, that a group of filmmakers and producers, along with theater helmer Omar Abu Saada and acting coach Nanda Mohammad, came up with the idea of staging an adapted form of “The Trojan Women,” with women who have themselves recently lived through the kind of ferocious war and bitter exile faced by the characters in the play.

Sixty women signed up, none of whom had acting experience, committing to seven weeks of rehearsals and workshops before curtain time. All wear hijabs (headscarves), while some are dressed in niqabs (face veils with just the eyes showing). As the days count down, the attrition rate increases, until 25 remain three weeks prior to the performance. Reasons vary: Some husbands aren’t comfortable with the idea of their wives on stage, while others fear retribution from Syrian authorities should they attempt to return home. Abu Saada is very clear that only those wanting their names in the program will be listed, yet the sense of apprehension, along with cultural stigmas, can weigh heavily.

Fedda’s interest is the process  how these traumatized women react to Euripides, and how they respond to Abu Saada and coach Mohammad’s exercises, in which they’re given freedom to incorporate their stories into the performance. Some blossom: Confident, sociable Fatima sees the play as a way of communicating and understanding her experiences: “Hecuba is so close to me.” Another identifies with Cassandra and her desire for vengeance. As the weeks pass, those who remain visibly relax before the cameras, benefiting from the experience of working together as a group and the energy that comes from the act of self-expression. The final staging is both choral and singular, the stark immediacy of their traumas given added potency, thanks to the uniform blackness of their clothes and the minimalist production design.

“I have reached the end of my sorrows,” the women recite in unison, similar to Hecuba’s line as she departs from Troy: “This surely is the last, the utmost limit this, of all my sorrows.” Like Euripides, Fedda knows this is a sorrow that lingers, and as their refugee status becomes ossified, and the women face ever more difficult decisions about the possibility of returning to a destroyed country, their grief will not have reached an end.

Fedda mixes observation, direct interviews, and occasional footage of the women’s lives outside the workshop with scenes from the play (the docu is a great advertisement for the “Syria Trojan Women Project”), packing just the right amount of context into the film’s modest length. Shots of Amman’s crowded, hilly cityscape have a nondescript flavor, situating the action in Jordan while silently communicating the idea that this is a foreign place for these women.

Film Review: 'Queens of Syria'

Reviewed at Abu Dhabi Film Festival (competing), Nov. 1, 2014. Running time: 65 MIN. (Original title: “Malikat Syria”)

Production: (Documentary — Lebanon-Jordan-U.K.-UAE) A Refuge Prods. production, with the participation of Sanad, the Asfari Foundation. Produced by Itab Azzam, Georgina Paget. Executive producers, William Stirling, Charlotte Eagar, Sawsan Asfari.

Crew: Directed, written by Yasmin Fedda. Camera (color), Fedda; editor, Greg Pittard; music, Robin Schlochtermeier; sound (5.1), Matt Alani.

With: Omar Abu Saada, Nanda Mohammad. (Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Loureiro’s Abano, Aragón’s Caribe Music Team

    Chelo Loureiro, Emilio Aragón Team on Animated ‘Valentina’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES – Spanish producer-turned director Chelo Loureiro of Galicia’s Ábano Producións has teamed with Spanish multi-hyphenate Emilio Aragón at Caribe Music to produce the upcoming animated feature “Valentina.” Valentina turns on a girl who is tired of having Down syndrome, and believes it to be the reason she’ll never be a trapeze artist. But Valentina’s [...]

  • Morelia Brings Four Shorts To Cannes

    Morelia’s Daniela Michel Presents Four Standout Mexican Shorts at Critics' Week

    Since 2005, the Cannes Film Festival Critics’ Week and Mexico’s Morelia Intl. Film Festival (FICM) have enjoyed a reciprocal relationship. Each year, a selection of short competition films from Morelia is shown in a special selection at Critics’ Week, with the features from the Cannes section screening five months later in Morelia. The short film [...]

  • Fedor Bondarchuk Drops Teaser for ‘Attraction

    Fedor Bondarchuk Drops Teaser for ‘Attraction 2’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES–Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk and his Art Pictures Studio have released the English-subbed teaser to “Attraction 2,” the sequel to Bondarchuk’s 2017 sci-fi blockbuster, which Variety has acquired exclusively. The director behind record-breaking Russian films such as World War II epic “Stalingrad” was in Cannes this week, where he presented footage from Art Pictures’ slate of upcoming [...]

  • Gkids Takes North American Rights for

    Gkids Takes North American Rights for ‘Weathering With You’

    CANNES–Gkids, the U.S. distributor of 11 best animated feature Oscar nominees, has acquired North American rights for “Weathering With You,” the new film from director Makoto Shinkai and producer Genki Kawamura. Gkids has set an awards-qualifying run for 2019 with a theatrical release in early 2020, in both the original Japanese and a new English-language [...]

  • Transilvania Film Fest Launches New SVOD

    Transilvania Film Fest Launches New SVOD Platform

    CANNES–The Transilvania Intl. Film Festival has announced a new SVOD service, TIFF Unlimited, which will launch during the festival’s 18th edition, which bows May 31 in Cluj, Romania. The service will curate titles from current and previous editions of the festival, while also showcasing other hand-picked auteur-driven productions, presented in partnership with local distributors. It [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content