Review: Eleven Days in May

Directed by Mohammed Sawwaf and Michael Winterbottom, and narrated by Kate Winslet, a simple memorial to the children who lost their lives over 11 days of bombing in Gaza in May 2021. Their families remember their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, their hopes, dreams and ambitions.

When most people think of those lost in bombings or conflict zones, they probably imagine a barrage of gunfire and scrambling soldiers, not peaceful family homes indiscriminately being destroyed. Mohammed Sawwaf and Michael Winterbottom took what could have been a political documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and instead made a personal, intimate letter to a group of children who fell victim to it. They may not be the first to use the format to pay tribute but it’s still a unique choice. It’s a solemn experience to watch Eleven Days in May go from family to family, recounting the losses of their children. An experience which is then amplified by its use of imagery, a harrowing combination of graphic pictures of their deaths and the joyful memories of their lives.

You’d think that hearing these stories one after another would lessen their impact, but it doesn’t in the slightest. Each is equally as heart-breaking and every detail of their deaths is a punch to the gut. It’s a clear reminder of who really pays the price for war and conflict. It’s a bold and confident style which makes it hard to look away, even if you truly may want to at points. Every story feels different, they may have all occurred in similar circumstances but Sawwaf and Winterbottom do them justice and highlight the individual personalities and hopes of the victims.

Visually, the aesthetic is sharp, pushing that really strong focus on its subjects. Moving between rough, hard to watch footage and clear, perfectly framed testaments from the family members, it creates a great balance. It takes some of the weight off of the graphic content to keep the message about family and loss, rather than violence and warfare. It also only uses the narration from Kate Winslet sparingly, to chapter each different day and attack, it helpfully adds more context but lets the children’s stories be told solely by their family.

Eleven Days in May is both a loving tribute to the lives of the children lost on those days, and a harrowing reminder of the casualties of conflict. It’s heart-breaking and gut-wrenching to hear each of these stories of grief and violence, but it’s put in balance by hearing each family tell of what the children were like and what they had hoped to become. It uses a simple and elegant style, moving between traumatic visuals and family memories, to create a reminder of the horrific number of innocent lives that are lost to conflict.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Exclusively in Picturehouse Cinemas from 6 May

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