Arguably the most accurate reflection of Americans' attitudes toward, and awareness of, the crisis in Syria has come in the form of Onion headlines: “Having Gone This Far Without Caring About Syria, Nation To Finish What It Started,” reads one of many painfully resonant summations. Return to Homs might help bridge that gap if it manages to reach viewers, though it offers few answers as to what can be done about the fighting or the refugee tragedies. Still, merely documenting crises of this sort is vital, even if its ultimate value is more historical than cinematic. Homs is known as the Capital of the Revolution, and it shows: Much of the city lies in ruins, with entire apartment complexes repurposed as makeshift safe zones in the midst of rubble and ash.
The film shows us people gathered to honor fallen loved ones, singing haunting songs with lines like “The child calls for help, father, but who will listen?” There’s a divide between the desperate power of this raw footage and the conventional manner in which Talal Derki has assembled (and narrated over) it — something of a through-line in recent documentaries on the Arab Spring — but his refusal to feel powerless as his country falls apart proves heartening.