Kurdish diasporic cinema: ‘Chaplin of the Mountains’ & ‘One Candle, Two Candles’

Review by Amir Sharifi & Ali Ashouri:Chaplin of the Mountains

Kurdish diasporic cinema, traceable to the 1980s and 1990s, is vividly invoked in the work of Jano Rosebiani, the Kurdish American film maker. His ‘Chaplin of the Mountains’ is informed by lived experiences of exile, nostalgia, journeys, border crossings, intergenerational experiences, memories, reflections, linguistic heterogeneity and code switching, intermingling of music, images, nature and culture. ‘Chaplin of the Mountains’, an experience in hybridity, attempts to find a new expression in form and theme.

The narrative structure is initially straightforward. Two young American film graduate students set out to explore the reaction of remote Kurdish in Northern Iraq to the projected screening of the universal marvels and magic of Chaplin’s silent films. David ( Zack Gold) and  Alan ( Bennet Viso)  assume that bringing Chaplin to spectators of  remote Kurdish villagers may evoke entirely visceral responses, based on their naïve and implausible premise that cinema had not yet reached the far reaches of this old world. As they are working out the details of their journey with the assistance of their Kurdish guide, Gelali (Kurdo Galali), they meet Naze (Estelle Bajou), a young French Kurdish woman who has given up her search to locate her mother’s ancestral village destroyed during the Anfal genocidal campaign. Naze joins up with the two students, one of whom is also half-Kurdish like herself, on their cinematic exploration. An ambitious female journalist, Shireen (Tales Farzan), who is in quest of her career story, also joins them as the initial uneasy feelings and uncertainty among them give in to inner connections, affinity, and even romantic intimacy between the characters whose acting is sincere and compelling. Chaplin’s screening, while delightful for children, is never completely shown as the mute images are interrupted repeatedly with intrusive images and sound such as a shepherd’s bawl and  his bleating goats, the stern objection of a Yazidi priest who considers the projection on the walls of his holy shrine a sacrilege, and the songs and dances of a wedding. A nostalgic song in the wedding carries Naze back to her childhood memory of her mother’s favorite song; overcome with emotions she divulges the harrowing life and tragic death of her mother, who had been abducted and sold into a brothel in Egypt, but saved and taken to France by Naze’s father.

The storyline suddenly changes direction as David and Alan and the others commit themselves to helping Naze find her mother’s village. The narratives told by the characters intersect with a turbulent and repressive history and the genesis of hybrid identities and contemporary political changes as experienced by second-generation Kurds.  ‘Chaplin of the Mountains’ provides some splendid glimpses of Kurdish landscape, vibrant rhythm of melancholic music, and aspects of life from the perspective of an exiled film maker. The melancholic music is spellbinding. The cinematography of some scenes is astounding and the landscape is brilliant, as is some of the acting. The long search finally brings them to the village where Naze’s mother had lived before she was abducted and sold. The village is situated between Iran, Iraq and Turkey, a mined area notoriously called Bermuda Triangle for its dangers. Naze and her companions find their way to the village, where Naze finds her grandfather, the only resident of the ruined village, a hermit still traumatized by the destruction, massacre and violence that had been inflicted on the villagers and his family. The final sequence shows the newly-found bond between a grandfather and his granddaughter as the film maker’s optimism bridges the gap between intentions and accidents, generations, languages, the imagined and the real land, and the diasporic world and homeland; in short, the film, despite some dramatic and technical idiosyncrasies, upholds the hope for beauty and humanity in the face of tyranny, adversity and the tragic history of the land and the fragmented existence of its people.

Opens June 25, 2014 at Laemmle Theaters – Los Angeles

Cast: Estelle Bajou, Zack Gold, Benner Visso, Kurdo Galali, Taies Farzan, Enwer Shekhani

Director-screenwriter-producer-editor: Jano Rosebiani

Director of photography: Jonas Sacks

Composers: Ciwan Haco, Agire Jiyan, Rodja, Mehmet Atli, Semir Ali

One Candle, Two Candles

‘One Candle, Two Candles’, a visually outstanding film by Rosebiani, explores the universal problem of forced marriage, particularly child betrothals in a Kurdish town. The story is told through a melodrama. A young 15 year old girl, Viyan (Katin Ender), falls victim to the barbaric tradition of forced marriage. Her pusillanimous, sycophant and greedy father, lured by a rich dowry promised by a wealthy local businessman, Haji Hemmo (Enwer Shekhani), forces his young daughter to marry the polygamous man who is old enough to be her grandfather. The defenseless child bride defies such an injustice. On the eve of the wedding she flees the bridal chamber and in desperation climbs a tree from which she adamantly refuses to come down, causing great embarrassment for the much revered Haji, who becomes laughingstock of the townsfolk, including the town’s buffoon.  The increasingly disgruntled and wrathful Haji becomes more abusive, resorting to brutal beatings and raping of the underage girl.  He goes so far to attempt to set her on fire in a fireplace, not realizing that Viyan had managed to crawl out and is subsequently helped by Haji’s two other wives.

A number of characters, most of whom play their assigned roles well, create a seemingly jocular context for the melodrama: Botan (Perwer Tariq), a travelling artist who falls in love with Viyan, a shepherd who prays to God for a new pair of shoes, a hunchback flasher, Dino, the village buffoon and, most notably, the ubiquitous Kitan (Mina Ibrahimzadeh) known and feared by boys as the “Ball Buster” for the type of death she had inflicted on her violent husband. The power and magic of love prevails in the end as Viyan, despite many ordeals, succeeds in eloping with Botan. Kitan finds her way into the Haji’s house; his shrill cries reecho through the hillside while Viyan, Botan and some other townsfolk are dancing on a bridge right before the two lovers elope on a motor cycle. The film, despite its occasionally misplaced humor, succeeds in warning the Kurdish society against the agony and atrocity that young girls are subjected to; many are not are not as lucky as Viyan was to escape their tormenting lives.

However, Rosebiani’s recent movies for Kurds are sincere attempts to convey insightful messages about Kurdishness, Kurdistan and its tragic history, its glorious beauty, and its cultural practices.

Opens June 25, 2014 at Laemmle Theaters –Los Angeles

Cast: Enwer Shekhani, Katrin Ender, Hisen Hesen, Kurdo Galali, Mina Ibrahimzadeh, Gulbahar Kavcu, Perwer Tariq

Director/screenwriter/producer/editor: Jano Rosebiani

Director of photography: Hamid Ghavami

Composer: Alain Pierre

95 minutes

Dr. Amir Sharifi is President of the Kurdish American Education Society, Los Angeles

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL https://kurdistantribune.com/kurdish-diasporic-cinema-chaplin-of-mountains-one-candle-two-candles/trackback/