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The Cave: harrowing hell below ground

05 December, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Dr Amani Ballour in The Cave

Directed by Feras Fayyad
Certificate 15

DIRECTOR Feras Fayyad made the documentary Last Men In Aleppo, about three men who are trying to help save people trapped in the besieged city.

The Cave continues on a similar theme by focusing on Ghouta, a city that has been bombarded by Syrian and Russian war planes during a five-year siege.

The Cave is a hospital that has carved out rooms deep underground to offer some form of protection for their patients and staff. Fayyad has taken his camera into the Cave, and tells the story of a small team of doctors who have stayed behind to do what they can for 400,000 trapped inhabitants.

Above ground, the city is no longer – just a chaotic, gap-toothed mess of concrete and iron. Emerging from the ground for any length of time is life threatening. Nothing is off limits for the attackers – they are razing the entire city.

Below ground, the extraordinary Dr Amani Ballour leads medics and staff to do what they can to help those who are brought in.

She and her colleagues Samaher and Dr Alaa not only face violent death but have to stand up for themselves in a deeply patriarchal society. In the Cave, they are equal: the circumstances have led to a sense of parity with their male colleagues.

To call this harrowing does not come close. The chaos of the aftermath of a chemical weapon attack – the doctor in despair, looking at her colleagues as people writhe in agony, saying that people are dying but they do not have injuries… and then the children come in – children poisoned from the air. Poisoned and dying, dying as these brave people fight to save lives.

Fayyad uses a soundtrack to try and break up the mixture of eerie silences, screams, sobs, war planes and bombs. Coupled with the camera work, the claustrophobia is real.

This is hell. It exists. And good and evil also exist – those good medics are flesh and blood, and their lives will forever be shaped by what they saw and what they did.

And evil exists in the form of the perpetrators who have created this hell, and those who have the power to stop them but have not.

There is evil in the hands of the people who have made the weapons that rain down on the children, the profiteers for whom each bomb dropped – and each child breathing his last – represents another dollar in the bank.


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