Film Reviews

On Her Shoulders review: Dir. Alexandria Bombach (2019)

More than ever, documentaries are making an intelligent, positive impact as a way to tell real stories about astonishing people. While the choice is huge, and it can be overwhelming to track down truths that stand out above the rest, On Her Shoulders is an unquestionably dynamic documentary that must be seen to be fully appreciated and understood.

Directed by Alexandria Bombach, On Her Shoulders follows the remarkable Nadia Murad, a young woman who never intended to be the voice for her people, the Yazidi of Northern Iraq, but after escaping being enslaved by ISIS in her home city, she eventually made it to Germany and then began telling her truth of the horrific events that took place, in the hope that people would be able to help them take back their land and save her friends and family.

You see, Nadia was a normal girl, living an everyday life, but her home and community were brutally overrun by ISIS because they’re Yazidi and had different beliefs to their attackers. Her family, her friends and people she knew were murdered, raped or taken in as slaves by their invaders. Nadia herself was raped repeatedly as a sex slave until she escaped, and eventually found herself at a refugee camp.

From there, she started telling her story in the hope of help. It’s unbelievably heart-breaking to hear but important to listen to. Through the course of the documentary, Bombach’s film follows Nadia through Canada, America, Greece and Germany, as she echoes her horrific, harrowing story to politicians, reporters and eventually to the United Nations. But, here’s the most astonishing thing about her, in the early years it’s not about her, she wants to raise awareness to find some resolution for the atrocities committed against the Yazidi.

On Her Shoulders is a compelling, unstoppable journey that offers unique perspective unlike anything I’ve seen before.  While we watch this young woman head into the world for support, all she thinks about is her family. Although her home is a shadow of uncertainty, she still wants to go back one day and that focus never wanes. In one of many poignant, reflect moments, Nadia shares her feelings on whether she can ever be the young girl she once was or if it’s a place she’ll never find. From once wanting to be a hairdresser, her mission is now another level of life beyond the everyday. When you discover this level of insight and perspective, and find awareness of your own freedom that so many underestimate, this is real life on screen. No matter how extreme.

But, despite all that’s happened to her, Nadia doesn’t want to be known or remembered as a victim of terrorism, she wants to know what we’re going to do about it and how we’ll change things – as a people – for the future. There’s an interesting moment in Canada when they’re watching Canadian soldiers marching to music and putting on a display, and Nadia talks about soldiers back home and the death, the difference, the pointlessness of war and why…everything you see here has a rightful, poignant contrast.

On Her Shoulders isn’t just another insight, it’s a portrait of a truly remarkable, inspiring woman who went from an ordinary life that was taken away from her and aimed to make sure it never happened again or, at least, people began to be aware and how it shouldn’t happen to others. It’s also important to mention the impact of her friend Murad Ismael (Co-founder and Executive Director of Yazda Organization) and his tireless work to help get her noticed, and to get her reality out to the world.

Nadia’s constant fight for justice is astonishing, inspiring and outstanding, and On Her Shoulders is an absolute essential watch.

On Her Shoulders was originally released in UK cinemas and On Demand on 25th January.

It’s screening across the country at Picturehouse Cinemas on 18th June, click here to book now and find out more:

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