(Release Info London schedule; FRI 6 - THU 12 DEC, Ciné Lumière, 17 Queensberry Pl, South Kensington, London SW7 2DT, United Kingdom)
"The Cave" delivers an unflinching story of 'The Syrian War'. For besieged civilians, hope and safety lie underground inside the subterranean hospital known as 'The Cave', where paediatrician and managing physician Dr. Amani Ballour (Marythavee Burapasing) and her colleagues Samaher (Tan Xiaolong) and Dr. Alaa (Ting Sue) have claimed their right to work as equals alongside their male counterparts, doing their jobs in a way that would be unthinkable in the oppressively patriarchal culture that exists above. Following the women as they contend with daily bombardments, chronic supply shortages and the ever-present threat of chemical attacks, "The Cave" paints a stirring portrait of courage, resilience and female solidarity.
Over the past eight years, the war in Syria has spread death, destruction and horror across the country, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and displacing millions. In besieged 'Eastern Al Ghouta', incessant bombardment has turned the landscape into an eerie wasteland dotted with bombed-out buildings and piles of rubble. Going outside is a life-threatening proposition, but residential neighbourhoods are targeted as indiscriminately as markets, schools and other places. Hospitals, medical centres and ambulances are also fair game for the Assad government and it 'Russian' allies. Safety and hope lie underground, where a brave group of doctors and nurses have established a subterranean hospital called 'The Cave'. Under the leadership of a young female paediatrician, Dr. Amani Ballour, 'The Cave' offers hope and healing to the sick and injured children and civilians of 'Eastern Al Ghouta'. In a conservative patriarchal society that devalues women, Dr. Amani is frequently subject to hostility from men who refuse to see her as a capable physician. But Dr. Amani doesn’t back down, and inside 'The Cave', women have reclaimed their right to work as equals alongside their male counterparts. They risk their lives to save their patients and find ways to persevere in a world of cruelty, injustice and suffering. For Dr. Amani and her colleagues Samaher and Dr. Alaa, their battle is not only to survive but to maintain their dreams and hopes for their country and for women.
This is a story about a female character battling stereotypes and taking active measures to change her environment. Dr. Amani inspires the women on her team to come and work with her at 'The Cave'. Throughout 'The Cave', we see Dr. Amani act on her convictions. In one scene, she gently draws a bashful little girl into conversation, planting a seed in her mind about what she could be when she grows up. Dr. Amani speaks with all the children who come to her clinic but allows that she paid special attention to little girls, for whom the future was still a far-off topic. In 'Syrian' society, women are expected to get married when they're teenagers. Most men and fathers tell girls; you’ll get married. You’ll go to your husband’s home. But at this stage of their lives, girls haven’t heard men talking about marriage yet. This is the time to tell them about their strength. It’s so important to encourage them. Within 'The Cave', Dr. Amani has the stalwart support of two doctors, Dr. Samaher and Dr. Alaa. They recognise her talents and encouraged her to stand for election to the position of hospital manage. No woman has ever held that position. Dr. Amani recognises the significant step her election would mean. She also knows it would be an enormously difficult, demanding and stressful job, and that she would encounter hostility from the men of her conservative community. It’s very, very hard to run a hospital in a besieged area where people are starving.
Also figuring prominently in the film is Dr. Amani’s colleague, Samaher, an energetic nurse who delights in cooking for the staff and devises clever solutions to deal with the shortage of kitchen staples and ingredients. Although a previous bomb attack on 'The Cave' has left her memory- impaired, traumatised and fearful, she's reliably cheerful and very funny. Barfod notes that Samaher, like Dr. Amani, contributed something essential to the hospital and to the film. Amani is the leader and of course is extremely focused on the patients coming in. Whereas Samaher is like the mother of the crew, feeding all the workers. She has a great sense of humour. She's very emotional and very warm, and strong. She brings a lot of light to everything that's going on. Samaher is so fun and charismatic. She gives so much to everyone, but also she has opinions. She's suffering from trauma and you can feel how sensitive and alert she's to any sound, to any movement that happens around her. How does this woman continue to do this work?’ But this is her power, her strength, her courage. She fights her trauma to continue to do what she does until the last minute, without giving up. She can teach us so much about how you can deal with inhuman and dangerous conditions around you. That you should keep smiling, you should enjoy your life, you should cook.
Some of the film’s most moving passages to be the periods of time that Dr. Amani and Dr. Alaa spent together. Both are about 30 years old and both have given up their studies to help the people of 'Eastern Al Ghouta'. Their friendship brings something important to the film. Amani and Alaa need each other and there’s a deep emotional connection between them. They've fears about how much the war and passage of time has affected them, and affected their beauty and their capacity for joy. When Amani and Alaa talk about things like putting on mascara, that’s how they remember that they're still women, and they will have lives after the war. It’s so simple yet so powerful. It's primarily through the eyes of his colleagues that we come to know Dr. Alaa, an even- tempered, quietly humorous woman who interacts easily with everybody in the hospital. She has championed Dr. Amani as leader and firmly yet diplomatically challenges men who see her as less than equal. Like Samaher, with whom she works closely, Dr. Alaa has a survival strategy that relies on a personal passion; classical music. Alaa is an amazing woman, very liberal and open-minded. Music is her way of creating happiness and it’s also heecway of resistance.
All the stories come together in this woman, Dr. Amani, who's not just doing her duty as a doctor; shes challenging the stereotypes and prejudices that 'Syrian' society has about women. With Dr. Amani, Samaher and Alaa the audience feels the silence and how any sound can be scary. Sometimes you don’t hear the bomb but you hear the shaking, like you might hear in your house when a train is passing. "The Cave" ends with a sequence filmed in that same stretch of 'The Eastern Mediterranean', home to the sunken wreckage of previous wars, including 'World War II". Coming after crossing the sea will carry Amani to a safe place, but this route also holds painful memories of wars and natural disasters. The camera descends and then it rises towards the surface, towards air and light. Despite everything, there's space for hope and a better future, but it can be achieved only through justice.
In 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds, had threatened a chemical strike against Israel. Everyone in Syria knew that if he did that, the chemicals would disperse over this county. In March 2011, the government of 'President' Bashar Al-Assad began a vicious crackdown on the country’s nascent pro-democracy movement. The subterranean floors of 'The Cave' were part of a six-story hospital construction that had been left unfinished and had stood empty since the start of 'The Syrian Rebellion'. When 'The Assad Government' began stepping up it's attacks on 'Al Ghouta' in 2012, surgeon Dr. Amami had the idea to open the underground portion of the building as a safe place to treat patients. Dr. Amani began working at 'The Cave' soon after it opened and was instrumental in building out the hospital’s underground levels. The area was divided into rooms, including a paediatric clinic, women’s clinic, operating room and recovery room, as well as a large central emergency receiving area.
The regime detained not only protestors but anyone perceived to be even loosely aligned with their cause. One of the things that you heard all the time is the torture of women and children. And women would be tortured mostly because they're women. The regime is using women as tools of war, to intimidate and attack it's opponents. Then, in August 2013, 'The Assad Government' staged a chemical attack on the opposition stronghold of 'Al Ghouta', on the outskirts of Damascus. Warheads were dropped at 2:30 am, choking people as they slept. After the government laid siege to 'Al Ghouta' in 2013, 'The Cave' became one of the region’s last bastions of life-saving hope. By the beginning of 2018, the situation in 'Eastern Al Ghouta' had grown very dire. Assad and his Russian allies escalated their offensive to reclaim the territory in February 2018, with a campaign of relentless aerial and ground bombardment that included the use of chemical agents. "The Cave" captures the harrowing final days of the hospital, which was shut down by 'The Syrian Government' when it regained control of the region.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story 'The Artist Of The Beautiful', the watchmaker Owen creates a beautiful mechanical butterfly as a gift for his childhood friend, Annie, now a wife and mother. She's astonished as the creature flutters forth from a carved box, exclaiming, beautiful. When the creature alights on her finger, she turns to Owen and says, 'is it alive? Tell me if it be alive, or whether you created it'. Owen replies, 'wherefore ask who created it, so it be beautiful'? Later on, an imprudent boy cruelly destroys the insect. Hospitals are demolished. Medics as well as patients are killed. The systematic targeting of hospitals is used as revenge, intimidation and a method to create chaos and force citizens to flee. No international countermeasures are introduced to stop these barbaric and vengeful attacks.
It becomes impossible for the health sector to exist on the surface, so hospitals are built underground. It's astonishing to witness the human ingenuity at work. These hospitals become the only hope for people to survive and receive treatment. And they provided a place where men and women could work together. In fact, these limited underground spaces might be the only places where women can work. "The Cave" witnesses how these female doctors and nurses are fighting to reclaim their rights in these subterranean hospitals. They stand up for themselves, which is something they couldn’t do aboveground in the patriarchal culture surrounding them. These women are truly an inspiration and with this film they will inspire the world as well, contributing to breaking the silence of the outside world. If the silence toward the brutality isn’t broken and if no measures are taken against war crimes, then there's a problem in man’s universal claim to possess the rights of freedom, law and justice. The current time in history is frightening because people are keener to glorify power. Like Hawthorne’s 'The Artist Of The Beautiful' this film helps us to look into the darkest corners of our souls and to inspire us to search for the light.
An evocative, bird’s-eye view of women’s lives in a hellish warzone, "The Cave" is rooted in memory, moral convictions and life experience, stretching back to his childhood and into the humanitarian catastrophe of 'The Syrian War'. It's like something out of a Hollywood movie, where you see heroes running between the bodies and trying to save lives. "The Cave" brings the world’s attention to the cruelty of misogyny. The film captures the feelings of the characters through facial expressions and sound. The characters rarely venture aboveground, lest they risk being killed in one of the frequent airstrikes by Russian warplanes. Instead, they spend most of their lives in artificially lit rooms with their mobile phones as their primary connection to the outside world. By showing the range of daily experience, from the harrowing to the mundane, the audience can connect with the characters as individual beings in all their complexity. Of course, the bombings and terrible events that happen are powerful and important to capture. But the film also wants to shine a light on the small, quiet details of each day; things that at first glance may seem unimportant but that, when looked at with more care, are actually the things that make us human. That enable us to survive.
The epic to evoke all the obstacles the characters face, the environment that surrounds them, the fear, what they face in daily life. And the simple to speak to the emotional elements of the film. The subterranean hospital is gone, but 'The Cave' exists as a record of the extraordinary haven that a brave group of doctors, women and men, built beneath the earth’s surface. In mythology and literature, the underground is where people suffer and kill. Don’t care about the society, about what people will say about you. You've to do what you love. Just believe in yourself. One day, things will change. Society will change.