Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kurdistan comes to NYC's Quad Cinema, as two Jano Rosebiani movies open: CHAPLIN OF THE MOUNTAINS and ONE CANDLE TWO CANDLES

According to Wikipedia, contemporary use of the word "Kurdistan" (of which there is no official "country," though the term can mean a particular region of Iraq) refers to large parts of eastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Iranian Kurdistan) and northeastern Syria (Western Kurdistan) all of which are inhabited mainly by Kurds. These days, some 25 years after the awful al-Anfal genocide waged by Saddam Hussein, it's easy for younger people (and older ones happy to forget history) to imagine that Kuridstan somehow is its own special country -- which it might, one can hope, someday become.

Even here in New York City, considered one of the cosmopolitan capitals of the world, we see few Kurdish films. So this double debut of movies by Kurdish filmmaker Jano Rosebiani is a welcome treat. Rosebiani is from Iraq Kurdistan, and though he seems to have spent a good deal of his life here in the USA, his movies hark back to his home country. CHAPLIN OF THE MOUNTAINS, an odd kind of sweet/sour road-trip about American documentary filmmakers showing Charlie Chaplin films in the mountain towns, as two lovely ladies tag along, even deals with the results of the al-Anfal genocide, while ONE CANDLE TWO CANDLES proves a comedy, if a somewhat dark one, about marriage and equality in present-day Kurdish culture.

The first thing you may notice about both films is how beautiful each is, scenery-wise. This mountainous area of Iraq Kurdistan, being industry-free, has no pollution and so, film-wise, the colors register strong, bright and true. On the basis of these two films, the work of Mr. Rosebiani, shown at left, seem to possess a nice combination of Hollywood storytelling ability and indigenous, low-key reality and charm.

In One Candle Two Candles he offers a kind of present-day "take" on a folk tale that includes an entire little town beginning with a goat-herd who dearly would love to own a pair of shoes and a pretty young girl (above, left) whose father is forcing her into marriage to a rich old man.

There's also a kid whose dad owns a local restaurant where very fresh fish are tastily prepared; a woman famous for castrating her husband who now seems always on the lookout for new meat; a hunky young artist just come to town (above); a sweet but feeble-minded man who longs to marry, and a dwarf who loves to expose himself and dance; and that aforementioned shoeless shepherd (below, after the "miracle").
Yes, this is quite crew.

Rosebiani sets the comic tone pretty well and keeps it going nicely throughout, though for us westerners, drawing laughs from the situation of a rich and entitled old man who'd rather burn his would-be bride to death rather than lose her to a more appropriate younger man simply underscores the horrors of Muslim culture, tradition and religion as evidently practiced here. "Would anybody blame me if I killed you?" hubby asks his bride.

Clearly, the answer, on one level, is meant to be a resounding no. Fundamentalist religion per se is mostly kept on the outskirts of both these films, yet its hammerlock on the culture is felt all the same.

On the other hand, that culture, as shown in the "Candles" movie, does seem to have some tolerance for "the Other," at least as viewed in the handling of the castrator, the feeble-minded and the exhibitionist dwarf (above). Who is kept in prison -- and for how long -- is one of the movie's funnier running jokes. Nary a homosexual shows his or her face, however; some "others" are clearly better than other "others." For the skinny on Muslim/Islamic hypocrisy on this matter, turn to George Gittoes' excellent Miscreants of Taliwood.

Chaplin of the Mountains has more of a documentary feel (Rosebiani has been involved in a few films in this genre, too) as his two young film-makers travel the mountain roads, stopping in various villages to screen Chaplin movies for the assembled crowds. There always seems to be an interruption, however: a herd of goats, or the screening at a wedding in which one of the mothers insists on more dancing rather than a movie.

Along the way, bits of several different Chaplin films are shown, the background and character of the young Parisian woman (above, second from left) who tags along is unveiled, as well as the needs and confusion of another beautiful young woman, a journalist (above, second from right), who also accompanies the two male filmmakers.

We get a philosophical discussion of love versus marriage; feminism ("In this country, you say hello, and they think you want to have their baby"); and finally we realize that, as well as road movie, we're also on a "quest" that offers some suspense and excitement. When we finally reach our title character, it turns out that the actor chosen (shown bottom, left) is way too young to be playing a great-grandpa.

As Rosebiani wrote, directed and edited both films, he's the man to praise or blame for the results. Mostly, I am happy to say, it's the former. The movies are lovely to look at, enjoyable to steep yourself in, and you'll come out the other side most likely with a better (or at least some) understanding of Kurdish culture.

From Evini Films, Chaplin of the Mountains (running 91 minutes) and One Candle Two Candles (running 105 minutes) open tomorrow, Friday, February 21, at the Quad Cinema in New York City. The filmmaker will be present for a Q&A on Friday and Saturday following the 7:10 show of "Candle"; Jano with also appear with his star Estelle Bajou (above, right) on Saturday after the 9:30 showing and on Sunday after the 5:00 showing of Chaplin of the Mountains.

No comments: