At a time when Syria is sadly once again at the top of the news, a short film that hopes to compete in this year’s Oscar race takes on added poignancy and relevance. Refugee is an exceptionally well made offering that highlights the plight of the thousands who fled Syria during the earlier humanitarian crisis. The film written and directed by Brandt Andersen (a producer of such films as Lone Survivor, Everest, and Martin Scorsese’s Silence) is intricately structured and elegantly shot, and it benefits from fine performances, especially by leading actress Yasmine Al Massri (who appeared in such films as Nadine Labaki’s Caramel and Julian Schnabel’s Miral).
We first meet Al Massri’s Amira in a hospital, where she works as a surgeon trying to save the lives of children in jeopardy. Although her work is important, she does feel some guilt about neglecting her own daughter (played by the charming Massa Daoud). Yet their personal problems are quickly engulfed by the momentous problems that force Amira and her daughter to attempt to flee war-torn Syria for a safer haven, without any guarantees that they will survive the journey or their relocation to a brand new country. Omar Sy (from The Intouchables) plays one of the aid workers supervising the evacuation.
These scenes at the edge of a storm-tossed sea are thrilling, superbly shot by Tobias Schliessler (the cinematographer of several movies directed by Lone Survivor’s Peter Berg as well as several movies made by Bill Condon, including his new thriller The Good Liar). But the coda, in which we see Amira’s circumscribed life in her new home far from Syria, may be even more devastating. Other films about the Syrian tragedy have won awards at festivals around the world, but this modest, beautifully crafted short piece deserves attention as an eloquent, mournful document of a crisis that challenges us all.
Stephen Farber, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association from 2012-2016, is a frequent contributor to The Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Times. The author of four books on Hollywood history, he is host of Reel Talk, presented with Landmark Theatres, and Anniversary Classics, presented with Laemmle.