Subtle Moments Of Survival: Our Review of ‘Valley of Exile’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 05, 2024
Subtle Moments Of Survival: Our Review of ‘Valley of Exile’

When you are separated from your lives and support structures you truly have to look from within in order to find a way through.

Valley of Exile is a genuinely stark but tender look at how sometimes we need to lean on the people next to us, no matter who they are in order to survive.

Set in the early years of the Syrian war, Valley of Exile chronicles the journey of Rima and Nour (Maria Hassan and Hala Nosni), two sisters who find unexpected refuge in a makeshift settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley after fleeing war-torn Damascus.

Older sister Rima is eight months pregnant and is set on reuniting with her husband and rebuilding their lives in Lebanon while younger sister Nour is determined to find their missing brother and eventually return home to Syria. In the camp, the sisters forge alliances with other women who are similarly forced to live without the support of family they’ve lost to the war.

These women are set onto separate paths as Rima finds work as a housekeeper, hoping to earn money to rent an apartment before her baby is born, while Nour sets out to investigate their brother’s whereabouts, risking her own safety in the process.

As what started out as days in the camp turn into weeks, Rima and Nour begin to realize that their journey into exile is not only a struggle for survival, but ultimately a test of loyalty; to country, to family and ultimately to each other since this is all they have.

What truly makes Valley of Exile stand out is that this isn’t a story that is dripping in any political or even social ramifications but it embraces the realities of two sisters being thrust into a strange land and being forced to rely on one another in ways they hadn’t imagined.

In her feature narrative debut, writer/director Anna Fahr takes us into the mindset of loss in such a way that you can’t help but be moved by it.  This is a story about the realization that their lives as they were simply don’t exist in the way that either of these women is hoping for and they have to find the where with all to be able to survive through this together.  Fahr genuinely keeps any trauma or overt drama away from the screen and allows it all to boil uncomfortably in the social morays and expectations of the people that these sisters have to deal with on a daily basis.

Both leads Maria Hassan and Hala Nosni are acting in a feature for the very first time here and that’s why it genuinely works so well.  Fahr manages to strip away any manufactured artifice as we see these two sisters adapt to a situation that neither of them was prepared for, all in real time.  Their performances were also validated by excellent work from members of the more experienced supporting cast like Michel Hourani and Joy Hallak who could help take the overall narrative where it need to go.

Ultimately, Valley of Exile works in ways beyond what you’d expect in a canon of films of this nature that we’ve seen before, but because more than anything it’s not a film that is trying to evoke any kind of emotion about a certain situation, but rather about the people who have to survive through it all.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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