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Film

'Return to Homs': Cycles in Syria

“Even in my darkest nightmares, I couldn’t have imagined the city as it is today. Nothing interrupts this silence, but the chirping of birds and the roaring of bombardment.”

Talal Derki is walking as he speaks in voiceover, walking through what’s left of Homs. That is to say, he’s “walking through” quite literally. Certainly, he’s crossing from one room to another, but more dauntingly, as he walks, the camera follows him from one home to another: he’s walking not through doorways but through holes in walls, holes created with hammers, so that people who have not evacuated the city, who mean to fight and document the fight, can pass under some modicum of safety and cover, unseen by snipers and men with rocket launchers, waiting to shoot at anyone they spot.

This passage, at once painstaking and casual, is startling the first time you see it in the brilliant documentary, Return to Homs, a dark nightmare that you probably haven’t imagined. But then, you see it again, and then again, in scenes that mark both the filmmakers’ continual returns to Homs, in western Syria, and you begin to understand that what you’re seeing is not only men in transition, but also, the ways that Homs, the city once known as the “capital of the revolution”, is changing, drastically and chillingly.

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