Saturday, October 09, 2021

VIFF ’21: Lamya’s Poem

Nobody was more responsible for the massive human tragedy in Syria than Iranian Quds commander Qassem Soleimani. That would be the same Soleimani FilmTwitter mourned after Trump took him out in an airstrike, in the mistaken notion the enemy of Trump couldn’t be all bad. In contrast, the Syrian people were celebrating. You can understand why when watching the suffering he set in motion for Lamya’s family. However, she takes comfort from the poetry of Rumi, as well as a magical time-spanning friendship with the young poet in Alexander Kronemer’s animated feature Lamya’s Poem, which screens online as a selection of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

There is only one teacher left in Aleppo, but Lamya is still one of his favorites. He even lends her books from his library, like a treasured volume of Rumi’s poetry. That becomes his party gift to his pupil when the bombing forces her widowed mother to evacuate the city. Braving the seas on a refugee raft is a dangerous and expensive undertaking, but she believes it is the only way for her daughter to have a future.

During moments of high stress, Lamya is somehow transported back centuries, where she befriends the young Rumi, who is also fleeing Mongol invaders. However, his father makes a fateful decision to take advantage of their refugee state, to make pilgrimage to Mecca. While it is unclear whether these sequences are meant to be dreams or magical realism time travel that ambiguity probably increases their effectiveness. Frankly, it would not be surprising if
Slaughterhouse Five was an influence on Kronemer.

The animation (with Brandon Lloyd credited as “animation director”) is a cut above the average studio kids’ film, but it never reaches the standards set by Ghibli productions or GKIDS acquisitions. Still, some of the more fantastical visuals are quite nice. There is an obvious pro-refugee bias to the film, but somehow it is not nearly as didactic as viewers might expect.

Indeed, there is are themes of tolerance and acceptance that emerge during young Rumi’s storyline that are quite effective. It really shows the audience how much educated everyday Syrians like Lamya’s family have lost, due to the horrific atrocities of the Assad regime and his Iranian and Russian allies. Poor kids like her deserve better, but at least Kronemer and company do not end her story a total downer note. It all looks pretty good and it is distinctively cut together. Worth checking out,
Lamya’s Poem screens online through Monday (10/11), as part of this year’s VIFF.