Abbas Fahdel’s documentaries often center around humanitarian crises and the immense human suffering that warfare causes, most notably with his epic two-parter Homeland that explored life in Iraq before and after the U.S invasion. With his latest film Bitter Bread, Fahdel continues his vital cause by turning his camera to the many Syrians who have been forced to take refuge in Lebanon, with one-fifth still living in tent camps near the country’s border.

To tackle such a tough, sensitive subject is always a challenge for any filmmaker but by tightly focusing on the tight-knit community of one of these camps and documenting their extraordinary hardships and struggles as they arise, Fahdel avoids any hint of exploitation and lets each person speak for themselves. 

For a situation that is so often boiled down to coldly impersonal statistics, Fahdel’s documentary provides a personal perspective that cuts straight to the center of the story. Over the course of the film, we become attached to each family and wrapped up in their different stories, the most affecting of all being the story of a young man struggling to bring his fiance over from Syria. We never see a resolution to this struggle, because perhaps there never was one, one of the many hard realities the film deals with.

But what also emerges from these observations of the camp is the strong strand of humour and compassion that flows throughout the community. Though the conversations that we witness between the camp’s residents sometimes feel a tad rehearsed or structured, the film’s fly-on-the-wall style allows everyone in the camp to tell their story and bond over their hardships.

Despite its patient, minimal style, Bitter Bread is a heart-wrenchingly passionate document of human suffering and resilience. Though some sequences can sometimes feel slightly rehearsed, Fahdel succeeds in getting to the real heart of the story.



DIRECTOR: Abbas Fahdel

SYNOPSIS: The everyday lives and hardships of Syrian refugees forced to flee their country and seek shelter in Lebanon.