Director: Alina Gorlova (Ukraine, Latvia, Germany, Qatar). Year of Release: 2021
It seems that the time has come for a Ukrainian film about refugees. But The Rain Will Never Stop, which will soon be released in Germany, is about a different “refugee crisis” than the one currently filling German train stations. It’s release has been delayed from 2020 due to Covid, and thesubject is Syrian and Ukrainian refugees in the 2010s.
Andriy Suleyman was born in Syria. His mother is Ukrainian, his father Kurdish. In 2012, when he was still at school, as President Assad waged war on the Syrian people, Sulyeman moved with his mother and younger brother to live with relatives in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the Donbass conflict was just about to break out and they realised that they had swapped one kind of war and social disruption for another.
The film consists of relatively short vignettes, numbered 0-9, with an epilogue which is also numbered 0. They show scenes from Andriy’s life and the lives of those around him. Starting with a barren mountainous landscape, we move to a factory producing tanks, and then a group of refugees carrying their meagre possessions through the pouring rain The refugee station is where we first see Andriy, in a Red Cross jacket carrying supplies.
Further segments show Andriy rehearsing a speech at a Red Cross 100th anniversary festival, Andriy’s father working as a masseur – some of his patients have lost their legs, Andriy’s brother’s wedding in Germany, and a visit to relatives in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Andriy gets to join in the local Newroz (New Year) celebrations. Towards the end of the film, Andriy’s father dies and he has to negotiate the flooded bridge on the Iraqi border so he can help bury the corpse in Syria.
Andriy’s family is distributed across the world, and have multiple identities. At one stage, they sit at the kitchen table, singing first Kurdish music, then Russian. They try to communicate with their relatives in other countries as best they can. Skype conversations are regularly interrupted because of bad Internet connections or worse. During Newroz, we see a festival broadcast on a laptop. Suddenly, shots are fired, someone is killed, but they carry on dancing.
Andriy – still only 20 – is unsettled and is not sure where he should go. Part of him wants to return to Syria to help people, but his relatives there warn him that it is unsafe. He shouldn’t believe media reports of peace breaking out, as the Syrian army is still throwing grenades at civilians. His father wants him to seek his fortune in Germany, but he is too concerned for his family, and for other victims of war, to simply up and leave.
There has been a recent trend to release films in black and white. Sometimes this has worked, on others it has looked like an irrelevant distraction from the story. The Rain Will Never Stop’s director Alina Gorlova has said that she chose to shoot in monochrome to highlight the similarities between the different regions that she is filming – the conflicts may have different causes and specific effects, but the victims of war are united.
As Gorlova said in an interview: “Through black-and-white, I thought that I could create this unified space, from Donbass to Syria. That’s also the reason why I decided not to add captions introducing the different places. Later in post-production, I realised how black-and-white cinematography seemed to reflect the conflict between war and peace, two opposite sides that form our world.”
It also looks strangely beautiful – even the bleak landscapes of barren hills, or the military parades where soldiers shout “honour our heroes”. This is not a polemical film – quite the opposite – rather it is a serious documentation of historical events which are happening in the here and now. We do not need to be told that war is hell. We are just asked to look at the consequences and think for ourselves.
As mentioned, the film has a coda. A woman’s voice says “Ich habe Kopfschmerzen” (I have a headache), which a man writes down in a notepad, occasionally asking for spelling tips. A group of women are teaching an older couple how to speak German, using phrases about missing Kurdish food and “In meiner Heimat gibt es Krieg” (in my homeland there is war).” The film ends with footage of a Pride march is interspersed with marching soldiers and a Kurdish wedding.
The horrors of the 21st Century have made multiculturalism a reality in many cities. This has caused much sadness, especially for those who have been wrenched away from their homelands, but also created a more cosmopolitan, and hopefully more tolerant society. Gorlova’s film shows both the nightmare of displacement and the celebrations, wedding festivals and bonfires enjoyed in particular by a community in exile. It both excoriates modern life and celebrates it.