How long can we focus on one tragedy, just for it to be overshadowed by another one?
This was the most prominent question that stuck in my head as I watched the heartbreaking 752 is not a number. The film follows the tragedy of Flight 752 a plane that was heading to Ukraine when it was shot down just after it took off from the city of Tehran, the capital of Iran. The doc dedicates most of its runtime to Toronto dentist Hamed Esmaeilion whose wife and daughter were on that flight and were among the 176 people who perished that day. The film is a stunning reminder of the individuals affected by the tragedy. It makes it impossible for us to remove the large-scale event from the people who were affected by it. We get a glimpse into the real heartbreak and hole that Hamed is left with and one he tries to fill by uncovering the truth behind the missile attacks.
Director Babak Payam stumbled upon the issue when he received a call from a friend who asked that he help Hamed?s return to Tehran to recover the remains of his family as he desired for them to be buried in Toronto. From there, we follow the truly frustrating and saddening efforts Hamed makes to bring his family back amidst the discourse that is stirring about how the plane came to crash. Initially, the Iranian government denied any direct involvement, citing an engine failure and three days later the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Cops admitted to shooting it down amid conflict with Iraq. This is what was suspected in the first place despite how wild it sounds. Never has a country?s own military shot down a civilian aircraft leaving its own capital city airport. Tensions were high during this time and the escalating conflict which led to this tragedy came from the idea that the U.S was going to war. Iran had skirmishes against the U.S embassy and then retaliation of missile tricks against the militia bases. For some reason the pilot was never told about the planned missile strikes and so these innocent civilians were caught in a mindless conflict.
The injustice of this event drives both Hamed and director Payam, who are both heavily featured in the film to do everything they can to fight for justice even when they know it cannot replace those Hamed lost. The result is a film almost made by accident but one that felt like a necessity to both Payam and Hamed to make. They needed to inform people of the lack of resolution this incident has. The film uses most of its small amount of footage throughout. One notable sequence shows what most documentaries don?t have the guts to do. It carries us through the horror of the plane?s crash using obscured sound, cellphone footage and security tapes. The constant use of cellphone footage in the whole of the documentary does lend away from the cinematic experience you might want from a documentary film but the focus on Hamed provides the emotional focal point to justify the whole use of this story. A phone was often the most reliable way to shoot these harrowing and dangerous investigation Hamed and Payam were making into the truth behind the crash.
The problem with the nature of the content of the film is the lack of available visual storytelling to do with Hamed?s case. It?s so hard to visualize the sadness and anger he feels in the face of this injustice. We see many times him burst into tears and clearly infuriated at what has happened. But those scenes aren?t effectively connected enough to his family and his daughter. We see her in multiple little videos which makes us connect to the lost he is experiencing over the course of the film but there?s not enough to tell a full story. The film could have never done justice to the life story of Hamed and his family, even if it had a vast amount of footage of his family and it does not.
Perhaps this is the biggest tragedy of all is that Payam can only film and aid Hamed?s efforts to find justice through legal means. As much empathy as Payam demonstrates through his efforts and filmmaking no one can understand the real-life sadness and emptiness Hamed experiences. It becomes even harder when all we see is the aftermath and so we get a film that is entirely falling action in its story. Payam makes the most of this fact with effective editing and use of music, the last scene being a particularly notable example of this. Still, there?s a longing we experience that goes along with Hamed?s longing for closure. But life is unfortunately full of tragedies and the conflict of Ukraine has now been overshadowed by the loss of Flight 752 as many more Ukrainians have died in the tension of war.
?So, what does it take to find some closure to Hamed?s broken heart? Does he continue to fight for justice with no end in sight or perhaps consider what he and his fellow mourners seem unable to fathom, forgiveness. It seems so tough when no semblance of what is right has occurred, no one has been properly held accountable for the loss of so many lives. But since when has anyone? The film provokes these ideas well and I would hope someone in Hamed?s life would bring the idea of grace to be more prevalent in his fight for justice. Especially with the ongoing tragedy of the Ukraine war being a more immediate issue. Maybe the best way to find justice is to live as well as you can. That can surely involve fighting for justice as he continues to do but as expressed by both Hamed and Payam nothing can replace what he lost. The film wrestles well with if his efforts are effective in providing closure to those who lost loved ones on Flight 752. Is his work going to help prevent another tragedy like it to happen? I think his efforts to raise awareness are surely doing that and the film should be applauded by displaying the bravery of those who continue to fight and bring this issue to light.
752 is not a Number is available in theatres now.