Screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center Chicago European Union Film Festival (4.5/5); Imdb.com (9/10)

The refugee crisis (especially those escaping from Syria) is an issue that is finally getting its due cinematically, first with the Netflix fact-based offering “The Swimmers” (2022) and now with this impressive debut feature from writer-director Abbe Hassan. The film follows the odyssey of a young Syrian girl (Jwan Alqatami), travelling alone, who flees to Turkey from her homeland on her way to Sweden for a reunion with her sisters and parents. But, upon exiting the crowded shipping container that transported her on the first leg of her journey, she’s met with a raid by Turkish immigration authorities, barely escaping in the unexpected company of one of the exploitive smugglers who organized her flight to freedom (Ashrof Barhom). Thus begins a trek through Europe as this seemingly mismatched duo makes its way to Sweden, a perilous trip that embroils the protagonists in an engaging array of challenges and revelations, especially the uncovering of the many different sides of these complex characters, superbly portrayed by Alqatami and Barhom. As this story plays out, the filmmaker effectively weaves together elements from a variety of genres, including action-adventure tales, thrillers, emotionally touching dramas and road trip/buddy movies, successfully depicting the refugee saga for it truly is – a bittersweet experience filled with joys, triumphs, disappointments and tragedies. It draws much-needed attention to the plight of these downtrodden souls seeking safety from an insane conflict that’s needlessly displacing so many innocents caught in the crossfire, just one of many such clashes currently occurring around the world. “Exodus” is a genuinely compelling watch, one that truly deserves a mainstream theatrical distribution, as well as recognition for the attention it so absorbingly draws to this urgently heartbreaking crisis.