Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Relying a lot on this brooding darkness and on symbolism, Ghobadi doesn't develop his characters as well as he might and at times this unbalances the film."

Mardan (Hossein Hasan) is a police inspector working in Iraqi Kurdistan. He's investigating the disappearance of a construction worker. It seems like straightforward case, but Mardan is a damaged man, the legacy of childhood trauma still impacting everything he does; and nothing is as it seems.

A dark and brooding drama from the young Ghobadi brother, this is a film which unfolds in non-linear fashion, keeping viewers guessing for at least the first half hour and only slowly allowing its secrets to emerge thereafter. It's set in a world torn between the casual corruption and bribery of the past and an emerging sense of national pride dependent on being able to play the game and look like a modern, sophisticated nation. This civilising impulse reveals itself in fits and starts, as with the tunnel projects the missing man was working on, but it strains against a landscape whose wildness remains alluring and whose traditions - such as the obligating loyalty of kin - carry a strong moral weight of their own.

Copy picture

It's a world where men are men - or desperately trying to be what they think men are - and women are largely absent. The exception is Leila (Helly Luv), who comes looking for the missing man and enchants Mardan with her beauty and fortitude - but would a man ever admit to something like that? Watching over her and her enchanting small son, Kurdu, he seems like a warrior guarding a fine yet vulnerable nation, and ill-equipped to defend it. Leila's strength is her own. Mardan is weighed down by guilt and he blames the river for his pain because he cannot face the failings of humanity - blames fate because he cannot face what civilised men like himself can do.

Relying a lot on this brooding darkness and on symbolism, Ghobadi doesn't develop his characters as well as he might and at times this unbalances the film. The pacing is awkward, the ambitious structure dependent on an approach which the director will need time to refine. This is balanced by superb cinematography by Saba Mazloum, who shows us a landscape at once beautiful and desolate; by a strong, haunting score by Kayhan Kalhor, whose use of traditional Kurdish motifs complements the nationalist aspects of the film; and by all round excellent sound work. Through these elements it becomes as much a film about a place as about a person, and the long shadow of a war which would begin only after filming was complete seems already to be falling.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2015
Share this with others on...
Investigating the disappearance of a construction worker brings a detective face to face with the tragic history of his country and with his own past.

Director: Batin Ghobadi

Year: 2014

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Kurdistan


Glasgow 2015

Search database:

If you like this, try: