Movie Review: An Animated Refugee Odyssey based on Rumi — “Lamya’s Poem”

A Syrian refugee child finds comfort in the poetry, philosophy and biography of Jalaluddin Rumi in “Lamya’s Poem,” an engaging animated drama that compares its title character’s life and fate with that of her fellow refugee, a 13th century Persian mystic.

Scripted and directed by “cross cultural understanding” speaker, pundit and documentary filmmaker Alex Kronemer and animated by Pip Animation under the direction of Brandon Lloyd of public TV’s “Cyberchase,” it’s a dark but lightly-instructive fantasy about children of conflict zones, Islam and a poet and teacher little known in the Occidental world.

Lamya, voiced by Millie Davis, is 12 years old and home-schooled because she has to be. She’s in Aleppo, Syria, a city under siege, where she and her mother (Aya Bryn Zakarya) avoid windows because of frequent artillery barrages and air raids directed by Syria’s dictator, nepo-baby Bashar-al Assad. It’s 2016, and he’s clinging to his dad’s old dictatorship by bombing (and gassing) his own people.

Lamya’s elderly, bookish teacher (Raoul Bhaneja) walks from apartment to apartment, checking on his students, giving assignments and picking up homework. He sees a future teacher in Lamya. She’s absorbed his “What is the the first word of the Revelation?” lesson.


He gives her a treasured collection of Rumi, “Poet of Love.” And from reading that, Lamya’s nightmares about war and displacement become dreams of meeting a teenaged Rumi (Mena Massoud), who struggles with the same fears Lamya does, added to a adolescent rage at the oppressors of his day — the Mongols who invaded Samarkand.

Rumi plays his flute and tries to plant it in the barren ground, shows Lamya the wonders of his fantastical steampunk home city and lets her see his struggles to tamp down the fury he feels at the rapacious Mongols.

“Hate can never defeat hate,” his scholarly father (Faran Tahir) lectures him.

As Lamya faces displacement, a sea journey to escape Syria, separation from her mother and a Europe that’s turned hostile to refugees, she learns from Rumi’s experiences and his writings, which soften the blows of her life.

This kid-friendly English language drama features polished 2D animation and just enough drama, strife and excitement to keep a younger viewer engaged.

The oppressor of Lamya’s dreams is a cavalry of demonic dog-beasts riding other beasts, not unlike how the Mongol horde was viewed by those it preyed upon. “Hatred” is visualized as an insidious street vendor, or a tentacle-limbed plant that swallows people, machines and human hearts.

Lamya reads from and quotes Rumi’s poetry to others as she throws in with an illiterate little street thief (Nissae Isen) also forced to flee Aleppo.

The film is more high-minded and well-intentioned than entertaining, but that doesn’t blunt its impact or render it less watchable. There’s a bit here for adults, but if you’re trying to raise enlightened, curious kids they’re the best audience for this child’s odyssey of understanding a hostile world through a great poet.

Rating: unrated, war zone subject matter

Cast: The voices of Millie Davis, Mena Massoud, Faran Tahir, Raoul Bhaneja, Nissae Isen and Aya Bryn Zakarya

Credits: Scripted and directed by Alex Kronemer, animation directed by Brandon Lloyd, inspired by the poetry of  Jalaluddin Rumi. A Freestyle release.

Running time: 1:28


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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