August 23, 2021
Syrian director Amel Alzakout records her own stranding in this difficult-to-watch film on a day when 40 people died off the coast of Lesbos
Purple Sea review – harrowing study of Syrian refugee in lifejacket limbo
Powerful but painful to watch, this experimental documentary challenges viewers to avert their eyes from the tragedy unfolding before them. It consists almost entirely of footage recorded on a waterproof camera that was strapped to the wrist of Syrian co-director Amel Alzakout while she was floating in the sea off the coast of Lesbos, after the boat she’d been travelling in sunk. Like the other 300 people on the vessel that day in 2015, Alzakout had paid people smugglers to help her escape the war in Syria and find a better life abroad. While she lived to make this film and was reunited with her partner and co-director Khaled Abdulwahed, some 40 people died in the water that day.
It’s possible that some of the perished are even captured on film here – though to be honest, it’s hard to make out much for long stretches as the images thrash around, evoking the panic Alzakout and her fellow passengers, many in lifejackets, must have been experiencing as they tried to stay afloat. Sometimes the camera is above the waterline and we can hear people crying, calling hysterically, blowing whistles to call for help. Otherwise, the view is of jeans-clad legs and other jumbled bodies twisting in the water, the sound muffled by the sea.
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