Jimmy Goldblum’s documentary “A Broken House” tells the story of Mohamad Hafez a Syrian-born American who moved to the US to study architecture. He was unable to return to Syria. Faced with his fate, he turned to his art to express his feelings of homesickness and began making miniature sculptures of his hometown in an effort to create the “Damascus” of his memories.

“If you don’t have the means to get home, then why not make your home? The architectural project tells the story of each human being who lived in it. It gained political dimensions after the outbreak of the Syrian civil War.

The film opens in an architect’s workshop where the protagonist talks about the therapeutic and cathartic role of art. He states, “When we leave we give up so much.” The struggle to leave comes along with an inner battle that is dominated by notions of loss and defeat. He adds that when we leave, we miss weddings, funerals, birthdays, and other special occasions. We give up on each other’s lives, and we lose sight of the important things we have in common.”

Hafez began to live a dual existence, torn between two realities, when the war in Syria broke out. While he was watching the tragedy at home, he kept his head up and continued to do his daily chores. He began to wonder what could be done and channeled his anger through art, choosing to translate the events in architecture.

Courtesy of A Broken House, The New Yorker Documentary directed by Jimmy Goldblum

Architectural and Cultural Losses

Mohamad says that instead of showing images of dead bodies because “how many can I see”, the architect represents an unfiltered reality through his models so people can understand the extent of destruction. The United States focused on the horrific imagery when covering the Syrian War. Violence as a means to foster empathy. The barrage of horrendous imagery was traumatizing for immigrants and refugees whose stories were being told. Jimmy Goldblum, the director, explained that he wanted to make a documentary for these communities to allow them to express their sadness and longing for home.

“If you want a nation to erase its history, wipe their architecture.” Buildings that had stood for many years disappeared in seconds in this war-torn nation. One inhumane decision took away the built environment that had shaped generations after generations. This complex mix of layers, etched in collective memories, was no more standing. Practically all legacies left by civilizations were lost, and society was no longer in existence.

Courtesy of A Broken House, The New Yorker Documentary directed by Jimmy Goldblum

Homesickness

Hiraeth was the original title of the documentary. It is a Welsh term that describes a feeling of deep homesickness for a country that has disappeared or is no more existing. This documentary examines the complex mix of longing, nostalgia, and intense desire to the past. It often comes with an undisclosed understanding of the fact that what was once there will never be and that the object of one’s desire will never come true. The film demonstrates how memories can be all you have when you are far from your family. However, you may find that your home has changed and your memories will remain in the same place.

According to Svetlana Bosom, Curt Hugo-Reisinger Professor of Slavic Languages, Literatures, and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, “nostalgia” is often associated with feelings of loss and displacement. However, this word can also be a romantic with one’s own fantasies, says Svetlana Boym. Because of the interplay between collective and personal memory, nostalgia can lead to a misinterpretation of the real home. This means that people romanticize a reality and fall in love with memories and ideas that emphasize how they remember or envision things. It’s bitter-sweet. It’s bittersweet.

Courtesy of A Broken House, The New Yorker Documentary directed by Jimmy Goldblum

“Whatever happens, happens to everyone.” Film’s family is like many Middle Eastern families. They have never lived under the same roof for so many years. The family’s different circumstances highlight the universal struggle of separated families: the mother who cannot live outside her country, the son who can’t go back and the father who has moved to another country but cannot separate from the country.

Courtesy of A Broken House, The New Yorker Documentary directed by Jimmy Goldblum

What is a home?

Hafez’s mother says that nothing tastes like home. One’s attachment will grow if a home is taken away. This can manifest in every detail, including statements that claim that the food back home is the best. It is really about the food or how food connects people with home. What is it that makes a home? More than just a physical place, home is also an emotional concept, often associated with “home is where your heart is”. Home is a part of human consciousness. It’s related to family, memories, and people. Home brings us all together. We know what it is to be home.

Courtesy of A Broken House, The New Yorker Documentary directed by Jimmy Goldblum

Courtesy of A Broken House, The New Yorker Documentary directed by Jimmy Goldblum

The documentary’s ideas of separation and undefined time took on a deeper meaning in Covid times. Jimmy Goldblum explains that Mohamad was trapped in America and missed many weddings, funerals and birthdays over the years. Now, due to quarantine, this feeling of longing can be something we all relate too.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, a Smithsonian Magazine author, stated that “Some people rediscover home as they go through their lives; some people don’t find another home after they leave home; and some people stay the same home they know forever.” Although people have different ways of living, the idea of home is present in all human experiences. “A Broken House” aims to show how it feels to long for a home.

“I miss it. Hafez concludes, “I miss home.”

Courtesy of A Broken House, The New Yorker Documentary directed by Jimmy Goldblum