Hard-hitting documentary The Cave is an unflinching depiction of hospital life in a Syrian warzone, but it’s also one of 2019’s most surprisingly feminist films…
One of the most eye-opening documentaries of recent years, Oscar-nominated director Feras Fayyad’s new film The Cave takes viewers on a shocking journey through life in an underground hospital in war-torn Syria.
As you might expect, the footage is frequently harrowing, as the beleaguered doctors and nurses attempt to treat the victims of chemical weapons strikes in unimaginable conditions.
Trapped in the besieged city of Al Ghouta, the hospital staff are faced with near-constant bombardment, as bombs continue to fall and access to crucial medical supplies becomes increasingly sporadic.
However, amid all the horror emerges the story of resilient young women flourishing in the face of adversity, with the formidable Dr Amani proving herself a truly inspirational hero.
A genuinely vital insight into a complex situation, here’s how The Cave demonstrates how feminism can thrive in even the most challenging situations…
1. It shines a light on everyday sexism
You’d think that if your wife was critically wounded in an active war zone, you wouldn’t be too concerned by the gender of her carers, so long as she was receiving the treatment she needed.
But the patriarchy casts a long shadow in Syria’s increasingly intense conservative society, and an early scene in the film sees a patient’s husband berating Dr Amani, insisting that “women should stay home and not work”.
According to the director, that kind of reaction was a common occurrence.
“She has to face these comments on a daily basis,” explains Fayyad.
“Not just Dr Amani, any woman who tries to work (in Syria). Even if they are trying to help. Even in the worst humanitarian situation.”
However, Dr Amani handles the situation brilliantly, shutting down the argument with two simple sentences.
“No one can tell me not to work,” she says, calmly. “No one can tell me what to do.”
2. Dr Amani is a feminist icon in waiting
In one of the film’s most rousing sequences, Dr Amani consolidates her status as the hero of the piece with a powerful speech on the various injustices society imposes on women.
“Women can contribute… I have qualifications to contribute something,” she says, railing against the strict social practices that make the idea of women working so taboo.
“Religion is just a tool for men,” she continues. “They take the parts they like and ignore the parts they don’t.”
It’s a scene that practically guarantees goosebumps as Dr Amani sets about laying waste to the various hypocrisies faced by herself and her colleagues.
If ever you’ve been patronised, passed over or held back at work, you’ll definitely recognise the rage.
3. It shows the power of sisterhood
Despite the constant tension and fear, with the prospect of another attack always in the air, the camaraderie among the hospital’s female staff continually shines through.
One scene stands out in particular, with Dr Amani’s colleagues throwing her an impromptu birthday party, complete with celebratory popcorn, and staff of both genders mingling happily together.
It might seem like a small thing, but according to Fayyad, it’s a significant moment.
“It shows how Dr Amani has managed to create a space for women to talk, to laugh, to work and to have fun,” says the director.
“She managed to build a way for women to feel comfortable at work and men to feel comfortable to work and talk with them.”
In a society where that’s actively frowned upon, it’s kind of a big deal.
“This is an unusual sight, particularly during a war,” continues Fayyad.
“It shows you what society can be with a good leader.”
4. It’s hopeful for the future
Life in Syria continues to be punctuated by violence and uncertainty, and the film is undoubtedly a rallying cry to the international community to take action.
The final sequence in particular, in which a chemical attack unleashes fresh hell upon the hospital, is almost impossible to watch without feeling like you should sit up and take action.
However, there’s plenty of optimism in there too, particularly in the way Dr Amani tries to raise up the women around her whenever she can.
There’s a thoroughly heartwarming scene in which she comforts a little girl whose father has recently been killed, urging her to dream big about her life to come.
“We don’t want to be something ordinary,” she encourages her, suggesting she might want to be a doctor or a teacher. “We have to be important.”
The look on the little girl’s face is a genuine tear-jerker. Suddenly somebody is seeing her, listening to her and asking her who she wants to be.
Truly, this is what empowerment looks like.
The Cave will open in cinemas nationwide from 6th December. Click here to book your tickets and to find out what you can do to #StandWithDrAmani.