A year before his passing, Axel directed his camera at himself, re-enacting a sort of a Corsican joust between father and son. They returned to Cateri in Corsica, the ancestral village of the Salvatori family. The film, Call and Response (2017), featured a local band singing a traditional song which may allude not just to Axelʹs relationship with his father, but to the plight of the refugees of Yarmouk.

In a gutsy attempt, Axelʹs questions delved into Lacanian psychoanalysis (after the controversial French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan, 1901-1981). Lying on a sofa after an argument with his father, Axel seemed as much at a loss for words as Alaa Alsadi in The Shebabs of Yarmouk. Axel had filmed Alaa lying face down on a divan in a room overlooking the camp in which his grandparents had sought refuge after the dispossession of 1948. Comparing both films, one can see how Axelʹs roots and his own existential challenges made him the person to get into the world of the shebab.

At the end of The Shebabs of Yarmouk, Axel asked each member of the group to read to camera their thoughts in what amounted to beautifully crafted letters. The final reading was done by Hassan shortly after completing his military service. Although Axel is the person being addressed, he is nowhere to be seen (he was unable to get to Syria because of the deteriorating situation). Yet, Axelʹs presence is felt in every word the shebab read.

ʹWho truly knows the Syrian regime?ʹ

Little did Axel know that two years after the release of The Shebabs of Yarmouk, he would be making another film about the camp. Dear Hassan (2014) switches between the streets of Paris and the alleys of Yarmouk and it features Axelʹs own words. Itʹs his turn to write a letter, via typed words on the screen, addressed to his Khayya, his brother, Hassan.

Dedicated to ʹWaed, the others, and the Syrian peopleʹ, the film uses camera cuts to take us back and forth to Yarmouk: the film, the place and the time. We see the shebab huddled together in a room overlooking a camp cluttered with dilapidated buildings and mushrooming satellite dishes.

The poignancy of the message is clear, and it is most obvious when we see the engaged couple, Hassan and Waed, sitting lovingly on a rooftop. Axelʹs lonely monologue allows the viewer to sense the portent of what is to come.

Dear Hassan ends with a question that remains without answer to this day: ʹWho truly knows the Syrian regime?ʹ

When Axel invited me to write the music for the opening credits of The Shebabs of Yarmouk, I composed an instrumental piece. Later, he expressed his wish that the melody be accompanied by lyrics, so I had to reverse-engineer the song. Iyad Hayatleh, a Yarmouk refugee who has lived in Scotland for two decades, came to the rescue, devising lyrics which aptly described the phenomenon that is Yarmouk:

                    This is Yarmouk!

                    O moon

                    Your light will wipe the darkness of the siege

                    On your white doorsteps.

                    The childrenʹs smiles will vanquish

                    The pains of my demise.

                    And the martyrsʹ blood

                    Will breathe life into me.

                    And through the blessings of old mothers

                    Iʹll imbibe the anthems of my triumph.

                    This is Yarmouk!

                    My song... My desire... my yearning

                    Are all for my home.

                    This is Yarmouk!

ʹAxoulʹ, as he was known to his friends, will be missed by all those who knew and worked with him, as well as by those whose narrative interested him, as a filmmaker and an activist. 

Reem Kelani

© Qantara.de 2018

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