Film Reviews

Review: ‘Memory in Khaki’

Hot Docs 2017

Courtesy of Hot Docs


A Memory in Khaki
(Qatar, 104 min.)
Dir. Alfoz Tanjour
Programme: International Spectrum (North American Premiere)

A uniquely lyrical documentary about the Syrian Civil War, A Memory in Khaki weaves five monologues into a fugue on themes of Syrian history and identity. The five voices—director Alfoz Tanjour and four close friends, including a Damascene writer, an activist/filmmaker, a friend now living in France and the director’s aunt, a former activist now living in Finland—ruminate about their lives under the “khaki” Assad regime. The term “khaki” seems to stand in both for the colour of military and student uniforms and the bland yet tense calm of life under the dictatorship.

Some of the reminiscences are moving, others intense. Tanjour’s aunt recalls being called in to meet with the military police by her “connected” uncle, putting off the meeting to that evening and using the time to gather her belongings and go into hiding. The writer speaks elegiacally of his love of his hometown, much as the White Helmets in Last Men in Aleppo and the journalists of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently in City of Ghosts offer impromptu odes to theirs—a reminder, if any were needed, that exile as a refugee is an absolute last resort for most people.

Though the film is built on the thoughts and feelings of five characters with very different lives, it is still clear that they represent a small slice of Syrian society. The absence of any kind of religiosity, ubiquitous in the verité footage in City of Ghosts and Last Men in Aleppo, should clue us in to the fact that the five voices are all variations on the single voice of Damascus’ educated liberal class. The narrative they help to build—a story in which the masses spontaneously arose to oust Assad, opposed ISIS unequivocally but understood the allure as a resistance to dictatorship, and met the ensuing chaos with tired resignation—is easy to sympathize with but perhaps a little too palatable for Western audiences.

An attempt at philosophical profundity throughout A Memory in Khaki is echoed in the film’s imagery, which is often a bit self-consciously “poetic.” Still, the film’s unique form makes it a valuable contribution to the growing discourse around the Syrian Civil War.

A Memory in Khaki screens:
-Wednesday, May 3 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 8:30 PM
-Thursday, May 4 at Cineplex Scotiabak at 1:15 PM
-Sunday, May 7 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 11:00 AM

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