IDFA 2016, Radio Kobani

This one was a shock. Because I order so many tickets at the beginning of IDFA, I often don’t really remember what all of the movies will be about. I knew this was about an underground radio station somewhere in the Middle East, but only learned where and how during the course of the film.
Kobani is one of the major cities in Kurdish Syria and was completely, totally destroyed in 2012 and 2014 by IS. We see two young women beginning their radio program in the middle of complete devastation – somehow they’ve managed to find a building that still has walls, not an easy task. The first 30 minutes are some of the most brutal and horrifying I’ve ever seen on screen. We see not only the utter wasteland of a former metropolis, we see the snipers and rebels in shootouts which they treat as video games. But most monstrous is the bulldozer as it comes to clean up the corpses, many dismembered. Absolutely stunning in its cruel matter-of-fact depiction of the fate of all those innocent civilians and the pragmatic actions of the men (and boys) who are just trying to clean up and rebuild their city.
Of course the radio program is the focus of the film, but it really functions only as a pivot to allow us to get a glimpse of these girls’ lives. It is almost ludicrous to watch as they get the station set up, feeling that there is no hope whatsoever for its survival. However, despite the utter grimness all around, people somehow manage to create lives in the desperation. We watch as the town begins to resurrect and we must stifle cheers of support as we see Dilovan go shopping for cheap bangles. There is very little humor in the film and so when we see her mother looking disapproving as a boy flirts with her, the humorous relief is palpable. As we see her marry and it seems that a beautiful future is possible, we can only pray that she, and the city, gets a second chance at happiness.


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