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(CityNews) TIFF 2021: “Farha": The horrors of war

Picture this. You’re walking around town, enjoying a lovely day. All of a sudden, you hear a gigantic explosion close by. You start running back home, and you hear gunfire, yelling, and more explosions. Loud speakers keep blaring, telling everyone to leave their homes, and never come back.

Farha is a film depicting just that situation, in what was called Mandatory Palestine in 1948, now known officially as the State of Palestine. It’s directed by Darin J. Sallam, and stars first time actor Karam Taher. Taher plays a teenage girl called Farha who dreams of leaving her small village and moving to the city to study.

She wants to become a teacher, and open up a school for girls in her village. There’s pushback from her community, but she persists. And once she gets the registration paper, that’s when the first bomb drops.

The first act of this film is a family drama in a late 1940s village in Palestine, but once that bomb drops everything changes. The film becomes a depiction of the trauma of heading through a war, as Farha tries to find her friends and family.

When she finds her father, he tries to send her out of the village but she refuses to leave. To keep her safe, he locks her in their pantry, which is where most of the film is spent.

Locked in the pantry, Farha’s experience, and the viewer’s by extension, becomes incredibly claustrophobic. The door is locked from the outside, she’s unable to leave. The camera sticks to her for most of this portion of the film, feeling similar to Son of Saul (2015), another film about living through a horrific tragedy.

One of the most horrifying scenes occurs when a family comes to rest at this house momentarily, and they’re discovered by Israeli soldiers. I won’t spoil what happens, but it’s seen entirely from Farha’s perspective in the pantry. It’s an incredibly traumatic scene, and the film very effectively conveys Farha’s despair.

It’s very hard to watch this film, and come away feeling good. What’s most shocking about this film is the text at the end, revealing that this is a real story. The names were changed, but this was based off of the life of a woman who escaped to Syria following the bombing and occupation of her village in 1948.

Farha is not a feel good film. But it is a film that can show you a perspective of the world that is very common, yet not often seen in the Western world. If you’re willing to stomach some intense, horrifying content, you’ll learn something about the world we live in.

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