A youth fleeing from the war, in search of salvation in Europe. After 8 months in a refugee camp, he flees again, but cannot go back. From Bulgaria to Germany, the journey of 21-year-old Syrian refugee Mohamad, who dreams to return home as a reporter.
“Souls of Syrians” is a character driven documentary, with no running commentary which, through the characters’ point of view attempts a hybrid language with the modern formula of narrative cinema. It is to this value that the development and structure of the story is subjected to. In the first part of the film we will see Mohamad’s day to day life in Germany, where he is waiting to know if his asylum request will be accepted or not. Flashback unfold during is “normal life” with scenes from inside the refugee camp where he has lived for 1 year in Bulgaria. There, his daily routine was always the same, in a decadent building like the Bulgarian ex-military base that has become temporary accommodation for the Syrian community. The camera conducts the story live, showing the cramped spaces where the daily routine of the camp took place. Looking at Mohamad involved in taking pictures and videos inside the camp, documenting the reality in which he was forced to live from his own point of view. With an intimate documentary of Mohamad’s everyday life, spent learning both English and German, praying in a room used as a place of worship and moments spent with his room-mates, the public will enter in contact with the character. Day after day he tries to contact his loved-ones, waiting endlessly in a queue to use the telephone in the refugee camp: a thin line that separates, and sometimes unites, these youths with their motherland. Then the reality goes back to Germany, where Mohamad is playing football with his german friends, trying to overcome is daily struggle to find a new identity. Mohamad’s life was at a fork in the road when he decided to leave Bulgaria. While looking outside the window from the apartment where he is living with his cousin in Germany, a flashback will bring back the attention to the protests arisen by local Bulgarian inhabitants opposing the presence of these refugees. The neo-Nazi movements originating from Sofia. Police truncheons “for leaving the refugee camp and protesting” during an official visit from the ex-European commissioner for Home Affairs, Anna Cecilia Malstrom. Then the news that finally floored him: “You must leave”. He ended up in a prefab set up with EU funding when the people in charge of the camp told him, “there is no more room here while other refugees continue coming”. Hundreds of refugees gathered at the main gate and, after overcoming police resistance, they managed to escape.
Among them Mohamad, while blocking a road and chanting: “Syria, Syria” and “Freedom, freedom”, the police struck back in riot-gear, hitting several demonstrators. It was the prelude for the necessity to begin his journey, even if illegal, that introduces the second part of the film. Details of Mohamad’s features and wide angle views of his surroundings lead up to a slow sequence that show Mohamad gradually walking away, passing beneath the Statue of Europe. The journey is meant as both an inner examination and a real and truly purpose of achievement. And again we come back to Germany, where Mohamad can’t study or work until he will receive a final answer about his status. The uncertainty that characterises the refugees’ reality causes every semblance of equilibrium to totter. Mohamad was left with two choices in Bulgaria: either live on the streets or try to travel so as to reach his cousin Hany, already in Germany for some time. We see Mohamad on a bus, from Harmanli to Sofia, and then on to Bucharest, where he would be put into the hands of a smuggler, already known to other Syrians, in order to reach Hungary and then continue to Germany by train. The camera shakes at night, showing a forest covered in snow, the River Danube as a guideline: Mohamad has documented his own journey. He sees his cousin Hany from afar, he was already waiting for him. Mohamad had called earlier using a kind driver’s phone who, like us, ends up witnessing components of a Syrian family reunited once again. As soon as the bus stopped, Mohamad jumped down and started running. They bear-hugged and cried, but laughed as well, being so happy. A plea for help is intrinsic in this exodus: an SOS sent via the souls of Syrians. From Syria to Bulgaria, then on to Germany. His dream, however, is to reverse the route once the conflict has ended. To go back and recount the rebirth of his country. He wants to show me his roots, once he has settled back down. When, at last, the conflict eventually comes to an end and Mohamad will be able to return home to his town of birth, Daraa, we shall be there to accompany him on his final stretch of the journey, the most coveted but, also, the most complex: his return home, the encounter with all his family who he won’t have seen in years. Among the ruins of a shattered youth, from where he will be able to consolidate his lifelong dream that the young Mohamad has conserved in the instantaneousness of his images.