Last Men in Aleppo (2017)

Khaled, Mahmoud and Subhi volunteer with the White Helmets trying to save lives of hundreds of victims in the besieged city of Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War.
  • 7.4 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Steen Johannessen, Feras Fayyad, Director:
  • Producer:

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8 / 10

What Do You Say About a Movie Like This?

Ooff....I can't even.

How do you review a movie like "Last Men in Aleppo?" It's about as opposite from entertaining as you're likely to get, yet it should be watched by everybody. It's incredibly urgent, yet it's so lacking in hope that it seems naive to think it will inspire any kind of action or change. It's basically an obituary for a country that hasn't completely died yet, but is certainly dying. And doing so while the world stands back and watches.

Last year, the film that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject was about a member of the White Helmets, a volunteer emergency response group in Syria. He enjoyed 15 minutes of fame when footage of him pulling a living baby from rubble circulated the Internet. That man is now the focus of "Last Men in Aleppo," a film that chronicles his life and eventual death as a member of the White Helmets. Whereas "The White Helmets," in that image of a rescued baby, offered some ounce of hope to cling to, "Last Men in Aleppo" offers nothing but despair. It's the kind of movie that makes it difficult to go about your daily life. The mundane minutiae of being a privileged American -- my biggest annoyance right now is that the motion-sensor light on my garage needs to be replaced -- make me almost embarrassed to enjoy a life of extreme luxury compared to the living conditions of these poor poor people in Syria. That the developed world stood back and watched this conflict happen with a shrug of its collective shoulders will go down in history as one of its most shameful moments.

Grade: A

8 / 10

Amid the Rubble

This is not your usual documentary film with resource persons/interviewees and a host or narrator. It's told from a first-person point of view. The actors are the subjects playing as themselves in real time as events unfold.

It captures vividly the stark realities of war that the victims will never forget as long as they live. The wanton destruction is stupefying. And the live video shots make sure that we'll remember the ugliness of war.

The viewer is a witness to the brave, heroic efforts of the White Helmets. The viewer watches them go about their grim business of clearing the rubble caused by barrel bombs, retrieving dead bodies of their fellow holdouts, gathering torn limbs and other body parts. Yet in between the bombings, the people try as much to live a normal life: attending the wedding of a colleague, building an aquarium for pet fish out of an unused water fountain, playing with their kids in the playground while on the lookout for war planes above.

The viewer isn't surprised by the ending. On the contrary, he seems to expect it given that the White Helmets know exactly what they're up against. Still, Batoul's phone messages to his father Khaled Omar Harrah are heart-rending.

The documentary owes its existence to Mahmoud and Khaled but most specially to Khaled.

7 / 10

Heartbreaking Documentary - A testament to the horrors of the Syria Civil War

I felt really bad after watching this documentary... but I suppose that's the whole point of it - to try and awake our sense of humanity and react politically against these atrocities committed against innocent civilians. I hope our politicians in the West are watching this, but I fear they will not do anything to protect these victims of genocide. The documentary shows the brutal reality of what happened and is still happening in Syria.

10 / 10

Tough watch

Tough movie to watch. Tougher to read the reviews of dumb conspiracy theorists who think George Soros can cause solar eclipses and the such. It's actually a remarkably unpolitical film, but follows the day by day lives of firemen in Aleppo. It's pretty tragic, but the humanity of the people in Syria shine through.

8 / 10

Movies Aren't Always Fun

Not all movies are fun, and this one sure isn't. But that doesn't mean it isn't a good movie.

The emotions raised in this movie are one's of disgust and sympathy. Disgust for the actions of the Syrian government, and its Russian allies, in bombing the crap out of one of their own cities (Aleppo). The destruction portrayed here is, frankly unimaginable, as you see the bombs being dropped on a city that probably has more bombed out homes and apartments than livable ones. How, you can't help but ask, can a government do that to its own people? Is there really any justification for this kind of behavior?

There aren't many reviews in IMDB for this movie, but one of them is from a Syrian government sympathizer who claims that the images and story presented here are nothing but anti-government propaganda. Well, if that is what it is, then they have gone to incredible lengths to create an alternative, fictional universe and the filmmakers deserve awards not for documentary feature, but best special effects. I don't know how you could fake many of these scenes.

The sympathy comes from the story that unfolds in this documentary for a small band of dedicated Aleppans (?) called the White Helmets. These people are sort of the equivalent of a fire department, except that fighting fires is probably the smallest part of their job. Mostly they spend days on end digging people, some of them alive, but most of them dead, out from under the collapsed buildings where they used to live. Most of the bodies are those of children and women and the horror of finding unattached limbs is not sugar-coated here. How you ask, can these people continue to live here.

And, an even bigger question is how can these White Helmets do this kind of work day after day? We see one of the men, a leader of one of the brigades, find some small amount of solace in creating a gold-fish pond in his courtyard. His love for his family, and his city, is so strong and, especially at the end, it is difficult not to cry for him.

This is not a feel-good movie - there is no way you can laugh during this movie, nor feel better about the prospects of these people. But it is a powerful and effective documentary that opens your eyes to both what is evil in men, and how much good can be found in those who fight it. I give this 4 stars (out of 5).