(2016) Drama (Mitosfilm) Rekish Shahbaz, Dimen Zandi, Maryam Boobani, Adil Abdulrahman, Abdullah Tarhan, Nalin Kobani, Imad Bakuri, Hassan Hussein Hassan, Helket Idris, Mesud Arif, Sherzad Abdullah, Shahin Kivork, Heider Bamerni, Berfin Emektar, Mame Cheto. Directed by Hussein Hassan Ali
Genocide is a condition that has often been imposed on the Yazidi, a tribe of people living in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Because they are not Muslims, they have become targets of ISIS who in 2014 invaded their region and began murdering them and selling their women in street side slave markets.
Reko (Shahbaz) and Pero (Zandi) are an attractive couple who have just become engaged when ISIS arrives. In the confusion, Pero hides with a group of village women only to become discovered by ISIS fighters; eventually she is sold off to the highest bidder. Reko, who works as a security guard at an American oilfield (early on in the film, one of Reko’s co-workers jokes “All of Kurdistan is an oilfield.” He arrives too late to save his fiancée but he does see some action with the Peshmerga resistance. In between fire fights, he searches for his intended, finally locating her in Syria and bringing her home.
Pero is almost a zombie by the time she returns home, staring straight ahead most times with a catatonic gaze, dissolving into screams when something reminds her of her horrific ordeal. When it is discovered that she is pregnant, life is turned upside down for both families – Ghazal (Boobani), the faithful and loving mother of Pero, knows that it will mean the end of her engagement. Reso (Abdulrahman) who is her father cannot bear to look at his shamed daughter. As for Reko’s father Hadi (Tarhan) it is his opinion that Pero is damaged goods who cannot marry his son, despite Reko’s obvious love for her.
The movie is shot simply but effectively and was given leave to shoot in the actual Yazidi refugee camp which houses nearly half a million of those who have fled their homeland. We get a sense of the desolation and despair that comes from being forced from one’s home, of being the target of a fanatical and powerful group that wants them wiped from the face of the Earth. However, as one elder shrugs, “this is the 73rd attempt at genocide” for this beleaguered people and they seem content to endure and continue. That they can trace their lineage back to ancient Mesopotamia is impressive especially considering how they have continually been the target for genocide over the millennia.
Zandi delivers a performance that is absolutely incredible. Possessed of an external beauty that is otherworldly – and a much better world than this one at that. She is the very picture of a dutiful and demure young woman who wants nothing more than to be with the man she loves. The horrors that are inflicted on her occur entirely off-screen; we only see the results of them, largely in Zandi’s eyes and her body language. We often think of the real carnage of war is limited to the battlefield but one viewing of this film will certainly set the viewer straight on that score – what the women endure in terms of rape, sexual slavery, abduction and forced breeding is absolutely unthinkable.
The film has generated some controversy – elements of the Yazidi were upset at how their culture was portrayed as backwards and intolerant. I didn’t especially agree with that but certainly there are individuals portrayed here that were certainly intolerant but there were also many who were not. As for being backwards, the Yazidi have a pretty desolate part of the world to live in and there isn’t a lot of room for luxuries to make things easier. Life for them isn’t easy and while I wouldn’t say they are backwards, they have a lifestyle that we Westerners would be hard-pressed to emulate but it is clear that they, like most of us, are tied to the place they live in ways that go beyond how easy it is to live there.
This is a powerful and moving film that reminds us that what ISIS is doing is not happening in a theoretical way; there is an actual human face to the victims of their brutality and consequences of their heinous acts. Ali should be applauded for shining a light on the deprivations of an ancient people and those who think that ISIS is just misunderstood should watch this one with an open mind. This film has no U.S. distribution yet which hopefully will change once it has been on the festival circuit for awhile; at film festivals in the Middle East it has already won some prestigious awards. This is a movie that deserves to be seen by a whole lot of people.
REASONS TO GO: The performance of Dimen Zandi is absolutely mesmerizing. The genocide of the Yazidi people in northern Iraq is not getting much coverage. Some of the scenes are powerful indeed.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally the cinematography looks like it was taken on a home video camera. At times the cast seems disconnected with what they are doing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of profanity, racial slurs and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ali intended to appear at the North American premiere at the Miami Film Festival but President Trump’s travel ban was, he felt, too much of a risk so he withdrew his application for a visa.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/5/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Syrian Bride
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Toni Erdmann