The collective struggle of longing for home | Daily News

The collective struggle of longing for home

“A Broken House” is a documentary directed by Jimmy Goldblum that highlights the story of Mohamad Hafez, a Syrian native that moved to the US on a single-entry visa to study architecture and was not able to return home. Facing his fate, he channeled his homesickness in his artwork, and started producing miniature sculptures of his hometown, in order to build the “Damascus of his memories”.

“If you can’t get home, why don’t you make home”. Telling the story of the human being that lived within, the architectural project gained a political dimension after the eruption of the Syrian civil war, portraying the extent of the destruction suffered by the city, humanizing refugees, and sharing their stories.

The film starts in the architect’s workshop, where the protagonist is talking about the cathartic and therapeutic role of art. “When we leave, we give up on so much”, he states. The struggle of leaving comes hand in hand with an inner fight that is immersed with notions of defeat and loss. “When we leave, we miss birthdays, weddings, funerals … we give up on so much, on being in each other’s life”, he adds.

When the Syrian war erupted, Hafez, like many others, started living a dual life, torn between two realities. He was constantly

monitoring the tragic situation back home while keeping a straight face and going on his daily tasks. Questioning what could be done, he channeled his raging emotions through art and decided to translate what was happening in architecture.

Instead of sharing images of dead bodies, because as Mohamad puts it “how many can you see”, the architect is representing an unfiltered reality through his models, so that people can fully grasp the amount of destruction, whether it being the destruction of life, heritage, or identity. “The

way the Syrian War was covered in the United States was to focus on the grotesque imagery. Violence as a way to build empathy. This barrage of horrific imagery was re-traumatizing for refugees and immigrants whose stories were ostensibly being told. I wanted to make a film for those communities, to give space to their sadness, their longing for home” explains Jimmy Goldblum, director of the documentary.

“If you want to wipe a nation’s history, you wipe their architecture”. In this war-torn country, buildings that have been standing for years and years, disappeared in a fraction of seconds. The built environment that shaped one generation after another vanished with one inhumane decision. The city, this complex mixture of lay


ers engraved in collective memories, was no longer standing. Practically, all the legacies that civilizations had left behind, dissolved, wiping out society from existence.

Hiraeth, initially the title of the documentary, is a Welsh word that defines a state of extreme homesickness to a homeland that is no longer existing or has never ever existed, describing a deep longing for something that is gone. The documentary explores this complex mixture of yearning, melancholic nostalgia, and intense desire for the past, which often come with an undisclosed understanding that what was once there, will never be, and that one will never have the object of desire. As the director puts it “the film speaks to the complex ways that when you’re trapped away from home, your memories are all that you have; but your memories may stay locked in place, while your home is ever-evolving”.

In fact, the word “nostalgia”, associated with the sentiment of loss and displacement, is also a romance with one’s own fantasy, according to Svetlana Boym, the Curt Hugo Reisinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. Related to the relationship between personal and collective memory, nostalgia “tends to confuse the actual home with an imaginary one”. In other words, people end up romanticizing a reality, falling in love with ideas and memories that highlight mostly how they remember or imagine things. It’s bitter-sweet. This subjective interpretation of what once was there becomes a collective concept of a diaspora that was, in one way or other, forced to leave, but that is still holding on to the dream, the dream of returning.


Add new comment