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Film / Last Men in Aleppo

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Last Men in Aleppo is a 2016 documentary film directed by Feras Fayyad.

It is about the siege of Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War. Four years of fighting around Aleppo led to Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad cutting off the last road into the city, surrounding and besieging rebel forces inside Aleppo. A horrifying siege then began, with the Syrian government and its Russian ally launching continual bombing raids against rebel-held Aleppo.

The film focuses on the White Helmets, a volunteer group working inside the battered city. The White Helmets are a volunteer force specializing in search and rescue, which chiefly involves pulling people out of the rubble of collapsed buildings after air raids. Specifically, the film follows two White Helmet volunteers: Khaled, who has children inside Aleppo and wonders about whether he should get them out of the city, and Mahmoud, a younger man who is worried about his brother, also still in the city.

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Tropes:

  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The presence of the cameraman is only acknowledged once in the film, when Khaled buys some desserts from a vendor and gives one to the cameraman, cheerfully saying "Here you go, boss!"
  • Call-Back: One whimsical sequence shows Khaled and his buddies buying some goldfish from a street vendor and then stocking a fountain with the goldfish. Later, we see a tight closeup of a goldfish in a tank. The camera then zooms out to show that the fishtank is in an apartment that has had a whole side of the building blown away. This starts a dreamlike montage in which the camera zooms and glides over various Aleppo ruins.
  • Documentary: Of the siege of Aleppo and specifically the White Helmets and their volunteer search-and-rescue misisons. Done in the "fly on the wall" documentary style and thus eschews many standard documentary tropes—no Narrator, no Stock Footage, no Ken Burns Effect.
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  • Gorn: A dead baby is pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building barely seven minutes into the film. On another occasion the White Helmets find a severed foot.
  • Jitter Cam: Seen many times as the cameraman follows the White Helmet aid and rescue workers around the city during and after bombing raids.
  • Mood Whiplash: One scene shows Khaled and his children taking a break from the horror and death by going to a playground. The fun ends when Russian scout planes zoom overhead and everyone has to make a hurried departure before the bombs start dropping.
  • Urban Warfare: The siege of Aleppo, which wreaks terrible destruction on the city and causes many civilian deaths.
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