Samouni Road: doves, elephants, and a Sicilian

It took fifteen centuries for the Elephant’s Coranic Surah to finally be put into image.

And the credit goes to a Sicilian, Stefano Savona, and another Italian, Simone Massi, mastermind of the fabulous graphic animation that scatters the film Samouni Road, a masterpiece matured for 10 years before reaching us, like a punch in the stomach.

The Samounis are more than a family, a clan on the rural outskirts of the Gaza Strip.

They were neighbours of the Jewish colony of Netzarim, evacuated in 2005. The Samounis are not refugees – they are not entitled to UN sardines, as they say – they are native Gazawis.

They live off the land they cultivate. The sycamore tree that dominated their neighbourhood, ripped off by an Israeli Caterpillar, had been planted there by an ancestor 150 years ago.

The fathers of the Samouni clan also spoke Hebrew, which they had learned in the years when they worked for Jewish bosses on the other side of the fence. In January 2009, it was of no use to them and did not save them from the gusts of machine gun fire and invaders’ rockets.

The Samouni clan had 28 martyrs during the so-called Operation Cast Lead led by the Martians in December 2008-January 2009.

While the Israelis had launched leaflets warning the population that they were going to bomb them, they did not issue any warnings to the Samouni district. They attacked them by surprise, after having choosed them to set an example for all Gazawis. The Samounis were neither militants nor fighters, they did not belong to any party, they were just children of the earth. But to be an activist in Gaza, it is not necessary to belong to a party, it is sufficient to devote all your energy and inventiveness to surviving.

Once again the Samounis planted olive and almond trees to replace those burned or torn off by the Martians.

Life always takes back its rights : new Samounis will be born from the union of the young couple who, against all odds, end up getting married in a scenery of ruins.

Stefano Savona is the European documentary filmmaker who has best reconstructed the struggles, sufferings and emotions of Arab peoples from Tahrir Square to Gaza martyrdom.

But can we really consider Sicilians as Europeans? Have they not kept under their skin the traces of their Arab-Judeo-Islamic past, which makes them brothers of the Philistines and Andalusians?

This congenital capacity for empathy is the very basis of the film’s achievement. It is supported by a technical and graphic mastery well above the average Hollywood level.

It is this empathic technique that has enabled him to solve the complex problem of the restitution of a chaotic, cataclysmic event experienced by dozens of protagonists.

How could the critical scene of the film -when the people hidden in a shelter are bombed to death – be reconstructed from the fragmented testimonies of the survivors, none of whom had a complete vision of the event?

Savona and Messi solved the problem by reconstructing the scene from the only possible global point of view, that of the Israeli operator of the camera filming the events from above, from a drone of the Elbit company used by the invading army. By the way, Frontex, the European border control agency, is buying the same drones to monitor harragas (boat people) in the Mediterranean, especially between Sicily (again) and Libya/Tunisia.

Some critics, at the time of the screening of the film in Cannes, did not understand that this solution – the graphic reconstruction – was the only solution to the problem.

The Samounis, thanks to Savona’s film, have acquired the status of subjects, protagonists of history, who do not derive their legitimacy from any ideology, any politics, any religion, but from their very being. As Rosa Luxembourg, they can say: “I was, I am, I will be”.

And the armoured elephants will eventually collapse under the clay balls dropped on them by the doves.

Technical data sheet

Original title: La strada dei Samouni

Director: Stefano Savona

Screenplay: Stefano Savona, Léa Mysius and Penelope Bortoluzzi

Photography: Stefano Savona

Sound: Jean Mallet, Margot Testemale

Artistic director of the animation: Simone Massi

Editing: Luc Forveille

Music: Giulia Tagliavia

Production: Picofilms – Alter Ego Production – Dugong Production

Country of Origin: France – Italy

Duration: 130 minutes

Rim Ben Fraj

Rim Ben Fraj, independent Tunisian journalist, founder of the web magazine cinemattack.info