Last Men in Aleppo (NR)

Documentary 101 min. May 3, 2017
By Bilge Ebiri
Shot over a year among the White Helmets -- the Syrian first responders whose rescue efforts, in the wake of Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin's bombs, have turned them into an international cause célèbre -- Last Men in Aleppo mostly follows two people living in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city and one of the spots most ravaged by the country's ongoing civil war. The reflective and garrulous Khaled is a former painter who came to renown (and became a hero to his own children) when he pulled a living baby from the rubble of a bombed building in June 2014. The intense, stern-faced Mahmoud, meanwhile, spends his days driving an ambulance from bomb site to bomb site, rummaging through the carnage and attempting to rescue the living and recover the dead. Repeatedly, we see him pull out children -- some living, many not. We also see him retrieve body parts, including, at one point, a severed hand.

You might expect that a movie in which men speed through a war-torn city and struggle to save lives amid bombed-out blocks and smoking ruins, all while keeping an eye out for more planes, would be breathless. But the prevailing mood here exhaustion. Khaled and Mahmoud have been doing this for so long that their souls have been crushed. The film has plenty of unflinching truth and emotion and outrage, and it ends with a gut punch. Yet it's the subtly unreal quality of what we're seeing throughout that truly highlights the obscenity of war.
Firas Fayyad, Steen Johannessen Grasshopper Films

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