Berlinale 2023 Film Festival review: ‘UNDER THE SKY OF DAMASCUS’ gives a voice to the silenced.


Five Women Unpack the Deeply Entrenched Misogyny in Syria in this Intimate and Affecting Documentary

Heba Khaled, alongside co-directors Talal Derki and Ali Wajeeh, gives Berlinale 73 audiences a vastly impactful and furiously personal look inside the abusive patriarchal structure of Syrian society. Systemic oppression needs a voice of truth. Khaled finds a group of women who take matters into their hands by collecting the stories of women in their community in hopes of creating an original stage production exposing generational hurt. UNDER THE SKY OF DAMASCUS is pivotal storytelling. 

Inside a women’s mental hospital, residents recall their circumstances for being there. Family members dropped off most for pushing back on tradition, some for merely existing at all. Women in a cloth factory and a recycling center recall the physical abuse at the hands of their husbands, passed down to their daughters. Woman after woman, story after story, the abuse is systematic and heartbreaking. 

Ari Jan‘s score heightens the feeling that this situation is a ticking time bomb. As their work progresses, the group’s members begin to dwindle. Either out of fear or blackmail, women quit the project. The film reveals that one of the crew members violated the women while filming. Heba tells the remaining members on camera after flying to Beruit. What happened next broke my heart. We watch these brave women unravel, resulting in a shocking pause in filming. Three months later, a new development knocked the wind out of me. The Play’s self-appointed director makes a decision that could undermine the project’s entire mission statement. 

UNDER THE SKY OF DAMASCUS is often an emotionally crippling viewing experience. It overflows with equal parts despair and inspiration. Quite frankly, it enraged me. The film’s journey is a perfect example of the silencing of women’s experiences and how patriarchal abuse of power can consume even the best intentions. It is a dream and a prayer from one generation to the next. 

Directors: Heba Khaled, Talal Derki, Ali Wajeeh
Cinematography: Raed Sandeed
Editing: Marion Tuor
Music: Ari Jan
Sound Design: Mia Joanna Koskela
Producers: Sigrid Dyekjær, Talal Derki, Heba Khaled, Beth Earl
Executive Producers: Philippe Levasseur, Romain Bessi, Jenny Raskin, Kelsey Koenig, Maiken Baird, Ruba El-Khash

Nominated for the Berlinale Documentary Film Award


*PREMIERE: Monday February 20, 18:30 – Cubix 9*

Tuesday February 21, 19:00 – Cubix 5

Wednesday February 22, 21:45 – Cubix 8

Friday February 24, 19:00 – Zoo Palast 2

Sunday February 26 13:00 – International


About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.

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