Return to Homs, 2014

Talal Derki
Return to Homs, 2014
Digital video, colour
90 minutes
Arabic with English subtitles
Film still


'This is Homs, but I don't know where I am.' Basset says with characteristic joviality as he wanders among the ruins and through the rubble-filled streets of the city. These are the streets in which he and Osama grew up: now a barren battlefield. In fractured homes, deserted living rooms speak of thousands of disrupted lives. Osama is disorientated by this completely new reality, 'like an immigrant discovering a new city.'

As the siege takes hold in Homs, these two friends gather together a circle of brave but inexperienced insurgents, determined to protect the captive civilians and help to get them out of the city. Surviving on a diet of just a few olives and a single glass of dirty water a day, this handful of stranded amateur fighters hold out against the snipers, tanks and mortars of the Syrian Army. They scuttle through the ghost town like rats: resourceful and single-minded.

An unlikely leader of the rebellion, Basset’s protest songs and dark sense of humour reflect his dream of liberation from Assad’s oppressive regime. But soon bravado gives way to despair as the reality of their David and Goliath battle sinks in. Sitting in a destroyed hallway lit by streaks of sunlight that make their way through the debris, the normally optimistic Basset seems broken. Osama has been captured and the fight is not going well. 'I no longer have it in me to do this. All my close friends are gone. I'm fed up, man.'
Out of despair, however, grows a renewed, more bitter determination. 'Will this revolution ever end?' the film's director, Talal Derki, asks. 'Sure - they're not immortal', smiles Basset. Pushed out of the city by advancing government forces, he prepares his men for a dangerous return to Homs. 'Kill me, but just open up an exit for the people.'

Primal and visceral, this extraordinary film dives into the reality of the Syrian resistance with a frenzied immediacy. Through a remarkable intimacy it captures the dreaded rite of passage of two friends and a haunting battle cry for justice.

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Before the revolution, Talal Derki was practicing his trade, which he learned years ago before the revolution. He studied filmmaking and directing in Greece and started thinking of filming something for Syria. Orwa and Derki had that dream since day one, and then the revolution started and decided to pursue the dream, as risky as it may be. It was all a challenge, going to Homs was a challenge, but we made it happen as a team.