In the remote mountains of Azerbaijan, where locals speak the endangered Lezgian language, Azerbaijani British director Suad Gara raises questions about post-traumatic stress (PTSD) disorder in her short film QARAGH or OYAN, which means "wake up" in Azerbaijani.
It is neither new nor surprising to discuss PTSD in a film, but what sets this picture apart is Gara's vision, which goes well beyond the lived experiences of those suffering from this sickness.
The viewers find themselves immersed in the patient's dreams and unconsciousness, providing them with firsthand knowledge of what it is like to suffer from such a sickness.
From the beginning of the film, we find ourselves inside the mind of the soldier Aziz, who is experiencing a nightmare in which cultists are performing a mysterious ritual in the woods, and just as we find ourselves overwhelmed with many questions inside our heads about the nature and purpose of this ritual, he suddenly wakes up to the voice of a young girl whispering “wake up” to him.
The little girl, who symbolizes his alter-ego, continues to appear to him throughout the film, criticizing him for what his superiors ordered him to do during the war.
The symbolism of the little girl is highlighted by Gara, who describes the film as a mysterious journey in which the innocent girl represents the protagonist's alter-ego and serves as a powerful symbol of his hidden enemy — a manifestation of years of conditioned masculinity and guilt.
During the shooting of this film, Gara hired unprofessional actors who are true locals of the village in which the film was filmed, providing further credibility to the film as well as an accurate representation of what it's like to suffer from hallucinations for people living in such a community.
As Aziz searches for his real self, Gara looks for hers as well.
"The film deals with the collective trauma of a generation born into continuous war.
I wanted to explore how we lose ourselves in the narratives of violence and how the road to redemption might lie in the acceptance of painful truths and the return to one's true self," the director said.