Syrian TV series shows ‘safe distance’ in post-war chaos to be fake

The Arab Weekly was on the filming site of this Syrian series and had a conversation with director Allaith Hajjo about his new work and other issues.
Sunday 05/05/2019
A scene from “Masafat Aman” shows Syrian actor Abdel Moneim Amiry. (Al Arab)
A distinctive style. A scene from “Masafat Aman” shows Syrian actor Abdel Moneim Amiry. (Al Arab)

DAMASCUS - In “Masafat Aman,” Syrian director Allaith Hajjo went deep into the Syrian crisis and created a work of art centred on a network of social relations so distorted and perverted that a dangerous and alienated society emerges.

The TV series, written by Imen al-Saeed al-Katheer, gives a broad canvas of social and personal burdens resulting from the chaos experienced by Arab societies in general in post-war periods and focuses on characters from the Syrian society in particular who have been affected by the events.

“Masafat Aman” (“A Safe Distance”) brought together talented Syrian actors such as Karis Bashar, Sulafa Miear, Abdel Moneim Amiry, Qays Sheikh Najib, Nadine Tahssine Bek, Jerjis Jabara and Haya Maraachli.

The Arab Weekly was on the set during filming of the series and talked with Hajjo about his work and other issues.

“In any society that has suffered the horrors of war, everything becomes dangerous and even more dangerous than the war itself because of the tangled and distorted relations it produces,” Hajjo said of his latest work’s title.

“The nature of the society changes and becomes chaotic in terms of love relations, work and life in general, which becomes fraught with mistakes. We become surrounded by the hazards of the utter chaos left by the war.”

“Each of us is trying to create a safe distance between oneself and these hazards to protect oneself from the repercussions of this critical stage,” he said. “Has any of us succeeded in developing such safe distances?

“I believe that the safe distance that each one of us creates is fake. There is no safe distance to protect us from the chaos that we have come to.”

In his previous work, Hajjo raised questions but refrained from offering answers. In “Masafat Aman,” he veered from his usual artistic path and provides new visions and specific answers.

“I usually do not offer answers in my work but this time I feel compelled to adopt a new approach because the results we are talking about have become real, imbricated in the details of our daily lives. We can’t see them but we experience them,” Hajjo said.

“I found it necessary to include them in the work for these results are very obvious in love relations, family relations, work and all details of life in general.

“We are today surrounded by hazards of all kinds, social, economic and other. Chaos governs all relations inside the whole society and we are living in a state of emergency that carries with it new, strange and, of course, dangerous things.

“This does not mean that we are finished as a society. There is always some hope left and it is this hope that we all seek and which drives us forward but it brings us face-to-face with tough and crucial choices. Either we stay where we are and we go on living in crisis and chaos or we get out of it and seek safety.

“In this work, we are building a specific end that is reflected in the answer that we give. I was obsessed with open endings but I gave that up because we’re offering an answer regarding the critical stage of the aftermath of war.”

Hajjo’s work, whether comedic or tragic, has been characterised by deep explorations of the human psyche. In “Masafat Aman,” he pursues that approach.

“For me, art is the means and ultimate goal to reach the depths of man; otherwise, art becomes just a means of entertainment. I’m not against art for entertainment and I respect this form of artistic expression and its fans and their opinion but I prefer to do work with intellectual dimensions because understanding human nature is my first and ultimate goal,” he said.

That artistic approach is quite visible in “Masafat Aman.” “I consider all of the production components like lighting, the decor, the costumes and of course the most important element, namely the actor, as contributing elements to conveying the idea, which is everyone’s goal. I believe that presenting things in a simple way is extremely important and requires a greater effort,” Hajjo said.

“Going for the visual wow oftentimes serves to hide other shortcomings. I’m of the idea that there should be an overall artistic and creative mix between all elements to create a specific harmony in accordance with a clear and simple vision. I want to be faithful through this harmony to the ideas in the scenario. I try my best to engage a visual dialogue with the audience by injecting enough visual enticement, especially in the context of the presence of a fierce visual competition in parallel works.”

Hajjo’s distinctive cinematic style appears in some of his works and disappears in others. There are traces of it in his documentary “Nawafidh Al-Rouh” (“Windows of the Soul”) and more recently in a short film based on a scenario by writer Rami Koussa titled “Al-Habl Al-Sirri” (“The Umbilical Cord”).

“When I made the TV series ‘Ahlam al-Gharam’ and some scenes of the show ‘Spotlight,’ some of my friends and fans often commented that these works had cinematic qualities,” he said. “So I was tempted to give my TV works a cinematic dimension and became obsessed with the idea of directing a film.

“It did finally happen with my latest film ‘The Umbilical Cord.’ I liked its central idea and its production conditions and time. I completed the work and it was successful with audiences. I’m not a big fan of festivals as much as I’m a fan of cinema itself because it is a beautiful world in which I have big dreams.”