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Republic of Silence review – fragments from the beating heart of Syria’s trauma | Film

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Diana El Jeiroudi’s film is a complex and sprawling curation of images, sequences and ideas orbiting the central subject of Syria and its anti-Assad uprising: this ambitious work is something between a conventional contemporary documentary (and by that token without a voiceover that would introduce or explain things), a video diary, an installation piece where clips filmed years apart are presented randomly or free-associatively. It perhaps has the procedural aesthetic of YouTube (where many people under siege in Homs uploaded their own searing footage of lives under attack), with videos queued up to be played by the user.

One of the many questions the viewer might have is about the meaning of the title: is the Syrian republic silent in that its tyrannical government shuts down dissenting voices? Or is it that the silence is elsewhere in the rest of the world, which is unsure how or if to respond? The film is sited partly in Syria itself, where the film-maker’s friend, geneticist Rami Abou Jamra, is carrying out medical research about inherited learning difficulty; there are dramatic scenes of demonstrations, attacks and some brutal images of torture scars and bullet wounds. It also shows the director’s home life in Berlin, where she lives in exile with fellow film-maker and partner Orwa Nyrabia who, like El Jeiroudi, is a director of the Dox Box documentary film festival back in Syria (where he briefly went missing) and also the director of the Amsterdam documentary film festival.

The clips are not really like jewels in a mosaic, more like shards or fragments: they reflect on pain and violence and also on the experience of exile, both inside and outside Syria and also – at, perhaps, a remove further than that – on what is possible to represent on film. Republic of Silence is a serious, considered piece of work, though I found it a little opaque sometimes – but there is a kind of sombre prose-poetry in its alienation and its love for an embattled homeland.

Republic of Silence is on True Story from 23 December.

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