Omar Amiralay: Sorrow, Time, Silence. 2021. France/Syria. Directed by Hala Alabdalla. North American premiere. In Arabic; English subtitles. 109 min.
After joining the May 1968 protests as a film student in Paris, Omar Amiralay returned to his native Syria to start making documentaries critical of the Ba’ath regime (which banned Amiralay’s work for most of his life). A dozen years his junior, Hala Alabdalla was a teenager active in leftist organizations who attended the Damascus Ciné-Club for the long post-screening discussions. (Alabdalla recalls the special guests Amiralay and other organizers would bring in, such as Jean Genet.) Over a decade in the making, Alabdalla’s moving posthumous portrait of Amiralay is rooted in three decades of friendship and shared revolutionary fervor. Largely filmed on a visit to Damascus in 2009, Omar Amiralay: Sorrow, Time and Silence alternately has the feeling of a private conversation and a masterclass on political cinema. The pair talk about their craft and their enduring belief in film as a tool for action; about old age and Amiralay’s ailing mother. Unhurried and melancholic, Alabdalla’s film is haunted by Amiralay’s sudden death in 2011, mere weeks before the uprising against the Assad regime erupted across Syria. Courtesy Ramad Films et Moderato