Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Streaming "must" -- and a book review, too -- as Aureliano Amadei's award-laden 20 CIGARETTES gives us a new perspective on our own Iraq War

TrustMovies first covered the amazing film, 20 CIGARETTES, back in June of 2011, when it made its New York debut as part of the FSLC's Open Roads series of new Italian cinema. (You can read that post here.) I was blown away by it then, and seeing it again just recently, it seems even better. Perhaps because I had also, just prior to viewing the film, read the equally important and maybe just a little bit better book on which the film is based.

First published in Italy in 2005, the memoir, TWENTY CIGARETTES IN NASIRIYAH, written by Francesco Trento and Aureliano Amadei, and based on the experiences of Signore Amadei, who was invited by a filmmaker and mentor to come to Iraq and help make a film about the Italian contingent (part of George W. Bush's Coalition of the Willing) and its "peace-keeping" mission in the middle east.

The book is told in the first-person, making it a kind of you-are-there experience which grows more important, immediate and shocking as it moves along.

What happens to Aureliano takes him from happy-go-lucky, young artistic dabbler (played in the film by the talented and highly empathic actor Vinicio Marchioni, shown above and on poster, top, and below) to a severely wounded survivor of a suicide bomb who witnesses first the stupidity and hypocrisy of his own nation as it subserviently follows America into this costly and worthless war, and then the further hypocrisy of its politicians and journalists, and finally one particularly sleazy soldier who claims false credit for saving lives.

These events have turned our "hero" into something quite different from who he originally was, and the memoir turns us, too, in that direction. Compulsively readable in an excellent translation by Wendell Ricketts, Twenty Cigarettes in Nasiriyah is a relatively short read (164 pages) yet so chock full of telling detail -- something that simply could not be crammed into the 90-minute movie -- that you come out of the experience feeling remarkably close to Amadei in every way. His telling of his own tale is liberally filled with humor and especially sarcasm, where Amadei and his naivete are concerned.

The movie version moves from present to past and back again, over and over, as Amadei tells his story with much of that humor and sarcasm intact. He found actors to beautifully portray everyone from his parents (above) and girlfriend/caregiver to the soldiers he managed to bond with briefly before the horror occurs.

Then we get the long, difficult time of recovery -- first in the American hospital near where the incident occurred and then back home in Rome, where he and we must listen to those politicians and sort out the "contra-dictions" of the Italian military presence in Iraq and what this signifies.

For Americans watching this movie, the experience makes us more than ever the "outsiders," even as it puts us in touch with the Iraqi people in a different way. It also forces us look at the war itself differently, via the perspective of a citizen of another western country. We see the horror, the bloodshed, pain and suffering in a less political but more human manner. And then we see, as ever, how the politicians and military try to "spin" events to serve their own interests.

The title (of the film and memoir) comes from our hero's overweening need for a smoke (above), no matter what else is happening (how European!), while the crack cinematography (Vittorio Omodei Zorini) and editing (Alessio Doglione) combine to create a brilliant visual sweep of past and present, attack (below) and recovery, and especially the growth and change of Amadei himself.

The movie's finale is especially moving and unsettling (the book ends very differently, on an angry but thought-provoking note). The movie was made several years after the book's publication; even so, for Amadei -- while things had changed and moved on -- the event at the heart of the tale is still a raw and open wound.

I cannot recommend either the book or the movie highly enough. Both are better than anything else I have seen or read about America's misadventure in the Middle East. I believe they will remain as important a testament to our current times as anything you might peruse. Iraq, meanwhile, continues to fall apart from within and without, while America further declines into a non-democratic nation dedicated to the well-being of the entitled one-per-cent at the expense of the rest of us ninety-niners.

Twenty Cigarettes in Nasiriyah (the memoir, shown at right) is published by Four Cats Press (click and scroll down for information on where to purchase) and perhaps can be found in some of our public libraries (if there is any budget left for small but wise books like this one).

20 Cigarettes (the movie) can be streamed now via Netflix and maybe elsewhere, too. I don't think that any DVD is available for the American market yet, but those of you who own an all-region DVD player can order a copy from Amazon UK.

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