A dead man is carried into a kitchen, and laid on the table. Before he can properly depart, his body must be cleaned thoroughly. Family and friends join in this ritual, a cleansing of the dirt of life from under the fingernails of finality. An exhausting yet surreal process, the truth is in the details but the spiritual effect can’t be ignored.
It’s as if this courageous man, who died during an attempt to save lives after a bombing, is getting one last wash. A body that is still warm, yet finds life oozing out of it like air out of a balloon.
“Last Men in Aleppo” is the movie I’m talking about, specifically the end. Now, this is where we enter “stop reading if you haven’t seen this 2017 film” territory. If you don’t care and are just curious, keep going and let’s dive a little into a fascinating film. Aleppo is arguably the most dangerous place in Syria, a city that was only taken back by government officials three years ago. Bombs are frequent bad guys, exploding at any time and turning a building into rubble. The movie spared the viewer little in its depiction of true grit heroism.
This documentary hits harder than most. Syrian civilians who have come together to help bombed-out victims. The main rescuer featured here, Khaled, is the person I was referencing above, the cold slab on a table that was once referred to around his city as “the child rescuer.” A charismatic and dedicated family man, he was also someone who could pull a ten-month old baby out from underneath rubble, 16 hours after the young one was first trapped there. Oh, and for those 16 hours, Khaled dug out the rocky hole with his bare hands, little by little, so the baby wouldn’t be harmed. That’s how good he was.
You can’t scroll around the internet for long without running into a bombing of some sort. The curiosity is only matched by the ferocity of such a tragic event, where a building becomes no more and the bodies inside of it are either mangled or dented in some way for good. Possibly both. Khaled Omar Harrah was one of many who ran toward the fallen and crushed rock, hoping to peel some life out before it all came to rest. Saving that baby was coined “Miracle Baby,” and he was the star. But he was just one of an entire crew of lifesavers, the unsweet yet resilient kind.
While some documentaries feel like two-hour infomercials with a better crew, every once and a while, one can touch the heart and mind. This one falls into the latter, thanks to humanistic heroes like Harrah. Real tough guys.
The bittersweet aspect of “Last Men of Aleppo” is that at the end of this movie, the hero dies.
The film rightfully paints the scope of the film around his lens, which makes him the protagonist–with the bombers being the ever-changing antagonists. An unstoppable force in explosives going against an immovable force in Harrah. Being a film addict, you paint the cinematic picture around a bare-boned true story.
The hooks sink in deep throughout Feras Fayyad’s film, evocatively focused on Harrah and his close friendship with his co-workers and his sweet-hearted family devotion. The scenes with his kids in between bomb rescues is where the film hits hardest. We know his dad is going into uncharted dangers five minutes from now, so we soak up the happiness just like the real-life children in this movie.
Harrah dedicated his life to saving as many kids as he could before his own clock, and luck, ran out. He went out doing what he loved. These men weren’t paid in gold or given large houses for their services. This was cheap laborious hero work. You had to love it or have that particular fearless streak. I like to think Harrah had both.
Pay him a salute by catching “Last Men in Aleppo” on Amazon Prime for $3.99.