You can take Mano Khalil out of his Kurdish homeland, but you cannot take his home out of Mano Khalil’s mind and heart. Mano Khalil, born in Syria and one of the most gifted and thoughtful filmmakers of our time, is his own man. A man unafraid to follow his passion and someone unbent on achieving his dreams. They say, films are the prism to gauge the sense of the society in which he live. But then, at the same time, Mano Khalil’s films are the barometer to measure the pulse of the world, whether it does have some heart left in it still. Whether there’s a possibility of accommodating peace in an age that has befriended bloodshed, violence and the biggest evil of them all- intolerance toward another human.
When Mano Khalil made Neighbours (a 2021 film), a widely-recognized movie that brought Jews, Kurds and Arabs living together in a village that gets torn by hate-filled propaganda against the Jews, he may never have thought that he’d have to worry for prosecution, and would have to move base to Switzerland, which he was already exposed to, in order to live quietly.
But that’s what it is today. The Syrian-born ace film maker who even moved base to Czechoslovakia back in the day in order to hone his craft in filmmaking and learn the ropes of the trade is anywhere but in his own homeland, so that he can survive and focus on doing what he does best.
Well, that’s contributing to the cinematic canvass in a creative way, albeit one that touches the human reality with honesty and profundity of emotion.
Today, Neighbours, a film that speaks of innocent childhood and what threatens to ravage man’s love for another, is being screen across various film festivals, one of which includes the Locarno Film Festival.
And the director couldn’t be any more pleased.
This is the same man who breathes an air unfiltered by cultural intolerance and bias in Switzerland, who, for the longest time has feared for his life?
At school, he wasn’t allowed to speak Kurdish and that too, with his own siblings.
Since 2012, which birthed the great Syrian uprising, ultimately forcing millions to abandon their homes and look for shelter anywhere else under the sun, it’s been impossible to live or operate freely in a country that’s known more about regiment-fuelled disorders and moral defunctness than it’s familiarised itself about peace.
But in Switzerland, which much like Canada, accepts people freely and is known for a liberal mindset, one can continue to focus on one’s heart and the direction it tells one to follow:
Expatica, a popular online journal lavished praise on the 57-year-old’s movie and happened to share the following:
Told from the perspective of Sero, a Kurdish schoolchild, Neighbours moves through daily routines, subtly exposing the cruel effects of the regime’s propaganda. When the new teacher tries to teach Sero and his classmates how to behave towards Jews, he makes the children stand in a circle with a doll in the middle. The teacher holds a knife out to them one by one. They have to stab the doll as brutally as possible, imagining it is a Jew. Sero is shocked and becomes increasingly suspicious of his Jewish neighbours, who are otherwise always very kind to him.
What doesn’t impress Mano Khalil one bit is that even today, back in Syria, where the Assad family enjoys unrivalled supremacy, anyone can be kicked out and anytime.
What he does, however, is that miles away from his actual homeland, Switzerland isn’t judging him for who he is and what cultural sect or religion he belongs to.
Might sound utopian but in an ideal world, this should be the way of life.