Do you get the sense that political leaders find great joy in sitting safely behind the walls of their capitals, sipping cocktails, and pitting their people against one another? Nah! Crazy, right? Writer/director Javier Badillo’s Roads of Ithriyah is a thoughtful story of a young Syrian militant, Ahmad (Shayan Bayat), who survives a bomb blast. Shellshocked, he struggles to figure out whose side he’s fighting for.
The war drama takes place shortly after the start of the 2014 Syrian conflict. Dozens of factions engage in civil war for control over Syria, and the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Raqqa become centers of power. At the center of this struggle is the village of Ithriyah. The sole survivor of the blast, evading military jets and helicopters flying overhead, Ahmad seeks shelter on a multi-day sojourn to the safety and safety of Ithriyah. While taking cover from a plane, Ahmad is stung by a scorpion and then discovered by a soldier, Khalid (Bahram Heidari), who thinks he is a deserter.
Roads of Ithriyah is not your typical war tale. There’s a poetic nature to Ahmad’s journey. As he struggles to piece his life together, Ahmad is thrown back and forth between three timelines. Along with his travels to Ithriyah, we are taken back to the past during a more peaceful time in Syria. Ahmad has become an aficionado in perfumes and fragrances, much to his mother’s dismay, Antifah (Mitra Lohrasb). As much as she’s disappointed with Ahmad’s choice in career, her frustrations are pointed at her daughter, Safiyyah (Priya Margaret Kooner). She’s disheartened that Safiyyah vehemently resists her mother’s insistence that she marry… like right now.
“…survives a bomb blast. Shellshocked, he struggles to figure out whose side he’s fighting for.”
Our story then takes us into the future, where Ahmad has taken refuge in Canada. He works at a university and meets Gudrun (Sarah Kelley), who has taken up the cause against Western colonialism, much to the dismay of University leadership.
Roads of Ithriyah is not the story of a particular battle. No guns are fired, and the violence of war is shown through flashbacks or off-camera. What Badillo does is stripped away the title of “soldier,” “militant,” and “refugee” and present Ahmad’s humanity. His fascination with fragrances plays an essential role in all three timelines representing a small piece of normalcy in a turbulent time, whether it’s family troubles, war, or being forced from your homeland.
The most challenging task for Badillo was juggling these three narratives to tell a cohesive story. Roads of Ithriyah is not perfect but works thanks to Shayan Bayat’s performance as he carries the entire film. The filmmaker also bookends his story with Ahmad’s thoughtful reflections on remembering life’s simple things amid great tribulation.
For more information, visit the official site of Roads to Ithriyah.
"…Shayan Bayat...carries the entire film."