Featuring: Korkmaz Arslan, Golshifteh Farahani, Suat Usta
Director: Hiner Saleem
Writer: Hiner Saleem, Antoine Lacomblez
Movie website: www.filmsdistribution.com/Film.aspx?ID=2048
2013-14 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Joondalup Pines: 1–6 April, 7.30pm
Verdict: A gripping off-axis contemporary Iraqi western (eastern?), intriguing for its enigmatic tone, and exotic cultural and geographical setting in remote Kurdistan.
Post-Saddam, Kurdish ex-resistance fighter Baran (Korkmaz Arslan) is in search of a meaningful peacetime challenge. A transfer request lands him a position as sheriff in a remote village in Kurdistan near the Turkish border, bringing him into conflict with the local warlord, Aziz Aga (Tarik Akreyi), and his badass gun-totin’ crew. Aziz and co resent any encroachment on their territory by agents of change, and there are a few of them other than Baran. There is educated and independent-minded schoolteacher Govand (Golshifteh Farahani), who shares Baran’s lodgings (and, it is suspected, his bed) and defiantly persists in her mission to provide local children with an education. Then there is a female band of anti-Turk resistance fighters holed up in the surrounding hill country. With power, control and illegal business interests in jeopardy, a showdown between Aziz’ crew and opposing forces is inevitable.
This is a classic western narrative setup: a tough new sheriff arrives in a far-flung town to clean up the lawless elements and impose law and order. There are pictures of his predecessors on the wall, all of whom have left defeated or been killed by the bad guys. There’s a beautiful feisty single woman, like the lawman a tough-minded idealist from the big smoke, except that her civilising mission is to educate the local kids despite the ‘discouragement’ of the bad guys. Needless to say, the town ain’t near big enough for the lot of them.
While the shape of the narrative is obviously borrowed from the American western, this is a twisted, exotic version of that familiar form, off-beat and off-key – and all the more intriguing for that.
For instance, there is an all-female band of resistance fighters based in a hideaway in the hills. It is not initially apparent why the warlord and his men have it in for them. They are not rivals in crime, since da boys are smugglers and prescription drug racketeers, and the female renegades have a politically driven anti-Turk agenda. Then again, they’re women with power (and guns!), and that spells ‘threat’ in this neck o the backwoods.
Then there is the enigmatic tone of the film. In the opening scenes, the new Kurdish government conducts their first hanging. It’s a botched execution debut, which the doomed criminal initially survives due to the rope being too short. The inclination is to laugh, but when the authorities have a second go, this time successfully, it’s decidedly unfunny. Dodgy black humour, or something other?
A bit of both, as it turns out. There is a directorial wryness throughout, some humorous touches, and some enjoyable quirkiness (eg: Baran is an Elvis fan, rockin’ out to Baby, I Don’t Care as he motors to his new post in the Kurdistan sticks). However, the drama is played straight overall, and appropriately so. Tribal division and the sort of regional warlord carveups Boran is fighting to eradicate are, after all, a serious and divisive issue, too close to home for piss-taking.
The Kurdistan geography is spectacular, otherworldly and desolate yet strikingly beautiful, and musically branded with a strange, haunting and quite lovely percussion instrument that Govand plays in solitude, away from the dreary town, as if seeking comfort in the landscape stretching out before her.
Expectations of the usual climactic extended shootout showdown are confounded somewhat in the service of realism. Not a bad thing in my view, but some might feel cheated.
The love scenes are approached with predictable delicacy, but there is unmistakable chemistry between the gorgeous Govand and Boran. A Catherine and Heathcliffe moment towards the end would be laughably corny, were it not for the exotic geographical and cultural setting, which somehow takes the giggle out of it.
Western fans, don’t miss, but leave your expectations at home and prepare for a ride unlike any other. If westerns are not your thing, don’t be put off. This is eccentric, different, well acted and shot, and thoroughly entertaining.
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