top of page

FILM Review

Written & Directed by

Soudade Kaadan

25 April, 2024

In a sea of films that continue to focus on the horrors and evils of war, Nezouh, which means displacement in Arabic, is a welcome change. It's a heartwarming and inspired coming-of-age film that remains hopeful while also serving as positive change to audiences perceptions of conflict-themed films.


For Motaz, Samir al-Masri, there isn’t any conversation at all to be had about the family leaving their apartment in Damascus. Stubborn, perhaps, but he's adamant that they can survive the conflict and keep their home; for him, this is his only job, protect his family, and by keeping them in their apartment he can do that. His wife, Hala, Kinda Alloush, though resigned to the fact that they’re going to have to stick with Motaz’s plan for now, hasn’t fully given up on the idea of leaving. Caught in the middle of this is Zeina, Hala Zein, their 14-year-old daughter, who is facing her own challenges as she forms a friendship with a neighbour, Amer, Nizar Alani. And after a direct hit on their apartment, Motaz still refuses to leave, instead he continues to do all he can to keep his family in their home. But, inevitably, as tensions start to rise between the mother and father, Hala makes a decision that will impact them all.

One has to have sympathy for Motaz, and the more I think about him, the more I understand his predicament. In all societies, a home is one of the tenets of life, and for him to walk away from his home means leaving his life and the safety he’s provided his family. Becoming displaced for Motaz, a word he despises, isn’t for fear of the unknown; it symbolises that he’s failed his family. This is wonderfully explored by Kaadan in a few early scenes, with Motaz shouting out ‘girls’ only being corrected by Zeina tells him ‘there’s only me’. This is subtle but a heartbreaking reflection of the reality the family is facing, as neither of Zeina’s sisters, Motaz, nor Hala’s other daughters are in the family home. I kept thinking that part of Motaz’s refusal to leave their home was more out of trying to ensure that there was a home for his daughters to come back.


It would be unfair to brand Motaz as a brute or his behaviour as typical masculinity; that’s not who he is. He’s a product of his community and generation, but he’s also been heavily influenced by being a father of girls, which comes out brilliantly in the way Hala and Zeina talk to him. There is a recurring joke that both mother and daughter use that’s very well placed. Which is what makes Nezouh special—the humour. In the midst of the conflict that they're facing, there has to be life, and for there to be life, there has to be hope.


During a screening last month Kaadan introduced the film, saying, ‘With this film, I wanted to tell a different story about the Syrian War. If [my] first film was about trauma, this second film is about hope. [I wanted to] subvert stereotypes about our stories.’ When we get to the final scene, it’s clear what Kaadan means and how powerful having hope can be. With Nezouh, the director has reclaimed a narrative that tends to weigh too heavily on the horrors of conflicts and forgoes the humanity of those caught up in the middle. True to her opening comment, Kaadan has created a film that shows how by having a filmmaker, utilising their own lived experiences, a new, more authentic depiction of conflict can be produced. What happens with trauma focused films is that they tend to overwhelmed audiences as always seeing trauma on this scale only makes them helpless and thus hard to find hope.

The world created in Nezouh is aided by cinematographers’ Hélène Louvart and Burak Kanbir's breathtaking work, which shows they have clearly connected to Kaadan’s themes. Every shot is masterfully crafted that lifts you into this world; it makes you positively root for the family, which is aptly aided by Kaadan and Nelly Quettier’s editing and Rob Lane and Rob Manning’s music. Through every scene, conversation, and interaction between her characters Kaadan has created a reality that you can seen hope prevailing.


And Nezouh's greatest hope lies with Zeina, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood who’s rebelling against her parents and has started to forge her own path. There is something dreamlike and innocent about the way Zeina and Amer begin their friendship; it is normal. Even in the face of fear, conflict, bombs destroying your home, and being forced to flee,

Zeina is still able to be a teenager and to imagine what her future is going to be. 


We leave Motaz, Hala, and Zeina with this image of fishing that permeates Nezouh. Fishing is something one does to relax and be at peace as we allow the waves to gently rock us into a lulling tranquility. As Hala and Zeina make their way through the decimated streets of their once-thriving community, there is destruction all around them. Yet for Zeina, she has a vision of herself casting a line and looking out into the wildness of the ocean. The film ends with hope, which is, for me, the greatest resolution we can look for as the world continues to be in conflict. Hope drives life, changes, and most of all gives us reason to keep going.

bottom of page