Eye For Film >> Movies >> Hunger Ward (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
At the time of writing, around 100,000 people have been killed in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. 24 million are in urgent need of assistance, yet media coverage of the civilian crisis has been sparse. Part of the reason for this is the danger faced by journalists operating in the country. Skye Fitzgerald's Oscar-nominated short represents real personal courage, and illustrates the courage of those who have nowhere else to go but are willing to look their situation full in the face every day.
It hinges on two interviews. The first is with Aida Alsadeeq, a doctor in one of the country's principal therapeutic feeding centres. The other is with Mekkia Mahdi, a nurse doing similar work. Both women face desperation on a daily basis and sometimes become targets of abuse for the distraught families of their young patients, who have nobody else available to blame for a situation that is too big to fully comprehend. Working in modern clinical environments that could be anywhere were it not for the chaos outside, they coax stick-thin children whose bodies have reached the point where they can barely process food to take in nutrients and, where possible, come back to life.
There are a lot of distressing scenes here. Suffice to say that not all of the children make it. The pain of losing a child is in no degree lessened by the awareness that it has become commonplace. It's exhausting for the staff who cannot help but bond with children who look to them for hugs as well as food, and who must face it against and again. But there are moments of triumph too. it's quite a thing to see kids who were too weak to move start to laugh and play again. One little girl's weakness is traced to a gluten allergy. As long as her father can get her the right food, she can make a full recovery. It's a reminder for people who talk dismissively about 'first world problems' that people in conflict zones face issues like allergies too, on top of everything else.
Yemen is not part of what was once known as the third world, however. Fitzgerald doesn't feel the need to discourse on its history. The architecture of the clinic, the equipment staff use and the smart clothes of many hospital visitors do that for her, ensuring that less educated Western viewers see a place they can recognise as similar to their own. Jeffrey T Ball's cinematography adds emphasis to this and also stresses the size of the rooms and corridors in which the work is done, further highlighting the smallness of the patients and how few they are in a place one might expect to be much busier - not because the proportion of local people who need help is small, but because so many have already fled - or died.
An unapologetic plea for help, this stark yet intimate film presents a scenario that any of us could face. "We live like primitives," laments one woman, mourning the things that have been stripped away - not just material comforts but sources of psychological stability. What does it do to people who grew up in a modern society to suddenly be unable to feed their children? The staff of the hunger ward take on the burden of terror on their behalf. They lend more than just their skills. They are keeping civilisation alive.Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2021