CFF 2024: Our Review of ‘Valley of Exile’

Posted in Festival Coverage by - March 21, 2024
CFF 2024: Our Review of ‘Valley of Exile’

Nour, a Syrian refugee, asks her tentmate and Palestinian-Syrian refugee, Shirin, what they do for their laundry during winter. I find that piece of conversation among many in Valley of Exile fascinating because of what it hints on. Westerners, and I’m projecting here, have a lot of expectations about refugee camps and the ecosystems around them. This film shows that those places are precarious, but there’s an ecosystem around that affects the outside.

Another thing that Valley of Exile shows are the emotions that are within the atmosphere of refugee camps. This specific one is in a private property in Lebanon, where the two female characters and more are staying. There’s joy in this camp, as a total of four female characters share food and enjoy each other’s company. But there’s also conflict, especially between Nour and her older sister Rima, both diverging in where to go from here.

As Valley of Exile shows, Rima wants to stay in Lebanon while Nour wants to find their brother Ahmad. The problem is that Ahmad is still in Syria, and tracking him has its own set of problems. This arc does show the film’s flaws in that it doesn’t explain this camp within a border context. I’ve seen documentaries where people come and go to Syria, but how a teenager like Nour does it is mysterious.

Valley of Exile is also strange in that it’s both a Syrian Civil War film AND a melodrama. Those genre tendencies pop out when it shows Nour and Rima’s relationship with the owner of the land they’re camping on. As I write this though, the film still captures the volatility of the lives of any refugees. Images of Rima holding her baby as the government evicts them from the camp says a lot about this.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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