Of Fathers and Sons, Dir. Talal Derki, Germany / Syria / Lebanon / Qatar, 2017, 98 mins, Arabic with English subtitles
Following his celebrated 2013 debut The Return to Homs, Damascus-born, Berlin-based director Talal Derki returned to Syria somewhat undercover. His second documentary feature unfolds in an area controlled by al-Nusra Front, an anti-government group formerly associated with al-Qaeda. Derki pretends to be a war photographer sympathetic to al-Nusra ideology and gains access to the home of al-Nusra fighter and homemade bomb specialist Abu Osama.
Of Fathers and Sons asks how violence is perpetuated by paying particular attention to Abu Osama’s two preteen sons Ayman and Osama (named for Osama bin Laden) and how conflict in the family and environment erodes their innocence. Tenderness and violence are coiled together: the children love their father and admire his war stories; he lavishes them with affection and enrols them in a Sharia military camp. Ultimately, the boys live under their father’s absolute influence and Abu Osama is determined to make them soldiers of holy war, by force if necessary.