The spaces in between Latamneh’s houses
As I watched Mani’s latest film from Syria, lines from a poem by James Fenton came into my head.
It is not the houses. It is the spaces in between the houses.
It is not the streets that exist. It is the streets that no longer exist.
The poem is about post-war Germany, but actually it’s about any city during or after war. I think the reason I thought of it is because Mani films the things most reporters ignore. Not the houses, but the spaces between the houses.
When we cover conflict, we usually concentrate on what we call the “bang bang”. But those intense moments of violence are just a small part of what goes on.
You notice all sorts of little things that you rarely get into your news report. Fighters eat, sleep, wash, talk. Children play football in the lulls between air strikes. In Baghdad in 2003 I went shopping for make-up with an Iraqi friend.
Mani films Syrian fighters having a meal and talking about their unease with the foreign jihadis who have joined their ranks. “We’ll have big problems when Assad falls,” says one. “They have the same mentality as Al Qaeda. In Syria we don’t have that mentality.” We, as viewers, are witnessess (voyeurs?), watching the thought process of those fighting, hearing their doubts and fears.
But what sticks in my mind is the boy at the beginning. He looks about 12. Standing in the middle of an empty road, rubble (from an airstrike? A tank shell?) over his shoulder, in a matter of fact way he lists those members of his family who were killed in a massacre. “Two cousins, my aunt’s daughter, her three brothers, my granddad and my uncle.”
He pauses. “Oh yes, my uncle’s wife and three daughters.” It’s the pause that got me. So many dead, he nearly forgot. That’s the space between the houses.
I went back to the poem and found a passage about the child, about any child who’s lived through war.
It is not your memories which haunt you.
It is not what you have written down.
It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget.
What you must go on forgetting all your life.