Reviewed by: Maryam Ghorbankarimi

"Besides altering preconceived notions of heartless killing in the name of honour and making it more of a love story, Kalifa also gives it some nuanced political undertones."

Sahim Omar Kalifa’s debut feature film Zagros (2017) offers a fresh and suspenseful perspective on the social evil and widely condemned issue of honour killing. The film, unlike most films on this subject, focuses on the conditions faced by both women and men in this situation. It not only empowers the female character by depicting her as the sole victim of harsh traditions and archaic beliefs, but equally portrays the male protagonist as a victim in his own right. He is a victim who does not fulfil our preconceived notions: the film does not depict him chasing after his so-called adulterous wife in order to kill her, but instead follows him leaving behind everything he loves – his herd, his mountains and his family – in order to prove his wife’s innocence.

The narrative is told through Zagros (Feyyaz Duman), a simple but happy shepherd. He is in love with his beautiful and seemingly modern wife, Havin (Halima Ilter) and together they have a young daughter. Havin, who is from the town, is outspoken and feels trapped and suffocated in the village, especially while Zagros is away for days in the mountains with his sheep. Her personality and spirit clash with the closed-mindedness and expectations of a traditional rural mountain village. When she can no longer take the burdening looks and rumours of her infidelity, she seeks help from her guerrilla fighter sister to flee. Despite Zagros’ support and his refusal to give in to the rumours, Havin leaves for Belgium without him. When Zagros finds himself left behind by his pregnant wife and daughter and faced with his family’s growing accusations about his wife, he too decides to leave everything and join them in Belgium.

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Once in Belgium, he finds out that his wife has miscarried, presumably due to the conditions during her journey. He asks very little from his wife and they carry on with their life together, almost happily. With the help of Havin’s cousin, he quickly applies for asylum and even finds a job in a Turkish abattoir. For a brief moment all previous points of contention seem far away, until Zagros’s father arrives in Belgium with more proof, feeding Zagros’ jealousy. His father even makes him think he may not be his daughter’s father, and ultimately asks him to clear their name by killing Havin. After his father’s arrival, the plot shifts focus from the father’s desire to restore their ‘honour’ to Zagros’ burning jealousy. The film ends like an ancient tragedy, similar to the Thousand And One Nights story of The Three Apples or even Othello.

Besides altering preconceived notions of heartless killing in the name of honour and making it more of a love story, Kalifa also gives it some nuanced political undertones. The main character is named after the Zagros mountain range stretching over the western part of Iran into the northwest of Iraq and southeast Turkey: a metaphor for an independent Kurdistan. The director is an Iraqi Kurd and it seems he intended not only to make a universal love story, but also a borderless Kurdish film. There is very little reference to Turkey in the film and the characters’ country of origin is only clearly mentioned when Zagros is being transferred to a prison in Turkey. Unless the audience are familiar with both the Kurdish and Turkish language, they might not realise both are in use here. The subtitles don’t distinguish between the two, though many of the people met in Belgium, such as Zagros’ boss at the abattoir, speak Turkish. On sites like IMDB, however, the film’s languages are noted as only Kurdish and Dutch, with no mention of Turkish. Depicting Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK)’s female guerrilla fighters in a positive light and as symbols of female emancipation is another interesting political message, along with a brief commentary on European (Belgian) immigration policies.

The film is beautifully shot and performed. Unlike Kalifa’s previous short films which mostly employed amateur actors, this film benefits from some talented up-and-coming actors. Duman, as Zagros, drives the story forward and keeps the drama real, despite some shortcomings in the plot development in the second half of the film, which may at times seem contrived.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2018
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A Kurdish shepherd is consumed by jealousy after he follows his wife to Belgium.

Read more Zagros reviews:

Amber Wilkinson ***1/2

Director: Sahim Omar Kalifa

Writer: Sahim Omar Kalifa, Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem

Starring: Maaike Neuville, Feyyaz Duman, Halima Ilter, Suat Usta, Yusuf Çetin, Aziz Çapkurt, Karl Ferlin, Steve Van Nuffel, Daria Hachem Mohamet Gulli, Leyla Batgi, Elvan Kocer, Ezdam Parilti, Munip Seven, Serkaut Mustafa, Brader Musiki

Year: 2017

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: Belgium


EIFF 2018

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