There are few people we meet whose true remarkableness rises above the realm of the ordinary and whose response to the call of duty exceeds what they may even be able to give. Dr Amani – the paediatrician and manager of The Cave, an underground hospital in the besieged Syrian city of Ghouta – is one of them. Since the beginning of the war, only a handful of doctors – mostly students – have stayed in the collapsing city.
Directed by Feras Fayyad, The Cave is a tremendously moving documentary. It shows The Cave not only as a hospital but also as a bomb shelter. It is a place of work and refuge. They work beneath the city because the streets on the surface are a hellscape.
Fayyad began work shooting before beginning his Oscar-nominated documentary, Last Men in Aleppo, and the director focuses more acutely on the workers of the hospital rather than the constant arrival of the injured carried through their doors. In doing so, he gives all of his subjects great depth of character rather than depicting them as mere victims to the destructive regime. They are captured busy triaging and also living in makeshift harmony. The tight shots in cramped conditions are coupled with wide shots of strikes destroying the city. Amid the chaos, Fayyad is resoundingly clear that sexism is fiercely alive both within and outside the tunnels of The Cave.
The filmmaker presents Dr Amani in moments of contemplation as well as action: tending to a child choking for breath she asks, “Is God really watching?” In a voice-over, she tells her audience that “religion is a tool of men. They take the parts they like and ignore the parts they don’t like.” In giving her these moments, Fayyad amplifies a voice that is often diminished by the same people she is risking her life to help.
At its heart, The Cave shows that its employees believe in the power of music and laughter and their untarnishable ability to supply hope to the human spirit. During surgery, another doctor plays orchestral symphonies on his smartphone. They may not have anaesthetic but they have music. The laughter over terribly made rice is more potent than the crescendoing hum of warplanes.
The Cave is an essential and poignant documentary. It’s a film of questions, many of which cannot be answered. Most overtly, what more can you give when there is nothing left?
The Cave is released in select cinemas on 6th December 2019.
Watch the trailer for The Cave here: