Ahlan wa Sahlan
- Lucas Vernier
- 94 min
- Fabrice Marache
In 2009 I was filming in Syria. While reconnecting the threads of a family memoir, which stretches back to the French mandate, I made friendships with Syrian families in Palmyra. In 2011 the revolution erupted, and in its wake the violent repression of the regime which forced me to stop filming. In 2019 I took up the camera once more, and set out to find these men to whom I’d left behind, telling them:« See you soon ?»
At Palmyra, in Syria, a man speaks to Lucas Vernier’s camera: “What’s the point of all this?” he asks. The year is 2009 and Lucas has left for Syria with his camera and the photographs taken by his grandfather when he was in the French army’s camel cavalry. As an assiduous young filmmaker, he films his journey amply. Finding his bearings thanks to his grandfather’s photos, he follows his footsteps, discovering the streets and buildings still standing from long ago. He reconstructs his grandfather’s route and forms ties with his friends’ descendants. The journey is simple, the welcomes warm. The filmmaker spends time in Palmyra where a photographer shows him all the photos accumulated over the years, a veritable archive of local life. Lucas films him, they share images. In 2011, Lucas returns to continue his quest. That year, the country erupts and Bachar el-Assad’s regime retaliates. The film turns back and the pursuit to find a dead ancestor becomes a race towards what is destined to disappear. The concern for memory is reversed, and guided by the grandfather’s photographic memories, it is Lucas’s images that now create traces. The destruction of the country happens so quickly that the filmmaker’s images become precious archives. Where can we find the currently inaccessible Syria whose roads now lie in ruins? A new journey becomes necessary to find scattered friendships, “temporary citizens” in Jordan or Turkey. Syria is at everyone’s side, always welcoming the traveller. In his images, the desert is a mirage, the photos of Palmyra are no more than memories of memories, but faces appear to say “welcome” (« Alhan Wa salhan »).
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After history and film studies, Lucas Vernier focuses on documentary filmmaking. His films, which all take his personal story as a starting point, then revolve around his research and encounters. His first feature-length documentary, Behind the Yellow Door, plays on an imaginary post-mortem meeting with his former neighbour, Lutz Dille, an eccentric photographer written off by the history of the art. Ahlan wa sahlan documents a journey begun in Syria in 2009.