A Film a Week - Samouni Road

Disclaimer: The text was written during the workshop organized by Go Critic and Restart held in Zagreb on 13th and 14th of December under the mentorship of Jay Weissberg
Stefano Savona’s Samouni Road is a demanding watch since it portrays the aftermath of the events of 2008/09 Gaza War, especially the Zeitoun massacre in which 29 family members of the titular clan were killed by IDF infantry and air force. However, it is also interesting because of its focus on a particular group of people and a particular farmland area and Savona’s ability to find a new, fresh angle, as well as the deliberate choice of technique, combining the documentary footage, animation and drone shots recreation.

Our guide to the post-war reality of Zeitoun is Amal, a young girl who survived the massacre but has to deal with the trauma, both physical and psychological, since she has lost her father and younger brother and still has pieces of shrapnel in her brain while living in extreme poverty with her mother, surviving siblings and extended family members. The orchards and olive gardens that have been destroyed in the war should be rebuilt and the first cheerful event, a wedding, is about to happen in the community since it has been converted into the pile of rubble.

Early on Amal tells that she is not a good story-teller, which cannot be further from the truth: her memories of her father and the pre-war life are both fond and vivid, here done in the form of short animation sequences in the linocut fashion by Stefano Massi. The initial dream-like reality of the animation turns gradually darker, culminating with her dream of a story from Koran about the elephant-mounted army being defeated by the birds throwing stones and the re-enactment of the attacks by Israeli soldiers intercut with the drone sequences in the emotional centrepiece of the film which is also the most problematic.

There is an obvious reason for going for animation and drone graphics since the pre-war and wartime material was unavailable, but the question rising from that particular sequence is whose story is that after all – hers, the community’s or the director’s. What is the whole film about then? The girl? The family? The post-war life reality of once prosperous, peaceful community whose male members were somehow integrated in Israeli society and not very political per se? About the particular aspect of the Gaza conflict? The correct answer would be: “all of the above”, and that will prove to be the film’s greatest flaw.

Savona’s approach of combining bits and pieces from the past and the present from the close, yet noticeable distance serves the purpose well enough for the first third of the film where the filmmaker demonstrates that he is a talented observer and selector, but shifting focuses becomes a bit painful in the anticlimactic final act where he finally introduces the politics, but too little and too late. Having in mind that Samouni Road is a sort of sequel to his previous Gaza-themed documentary Cast Lead (2009) filmed on the spot during the war helps to understand some of Savona’s choices and the film profits from the, technically speaking, precise Luc Forveille’s editing in the sense of glueing frame to frame and scene to scene, which eases enduring the 130 minutes runtime, but the feeling is that the film is, while occasionally impressive, a bit all over the place due to the lack of sense of direction in the terms of the story.

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