Hiner Saleem, a Kurdish director living in France, has directed five feature films; Long Live the Bride…Liberation of Kurdistan (1997) – this film will be referred as Long Live the Bride in the rest of this essay -, Beyond Our Dreams (2000), Vodka-Lemon (2003) which won the best film award at Venice Film Festival in 2003, Kilometer Zero (2005) and his most recent movie Dol (aka The Valley of Tambur) (2006). Unfortunately Beyond our Dreams and Dol are not available on DVD’s or VHS cassettes so this essay will only provide analyses of Long Live the Bride, Vodka Lemon and Kilometer Zero. Also it should be stated at first that I was only able to watch Long Live the Bride on SBS TV in Australia a few years ago, as apparently no DVD version of this film available on the market either. That is why my criticism of this film will only rely on my watching the film a few years ago.
Before analyzing these three films in detail a brief background of the director will be provided in order to make it possible for the reader to gain a better understanding of Saleem’s films as they are to a certain extent the reflection of the director’s life experience. After that these three films will be closely analyzed so as to comprehend the characteristic of the films and Saleem’s portrayal of Kurds in them as a Kurdish-French director. Saleem’s portrayal of Kurdish people is important because although the director was born in Kurdistan he has been living in France for more than 15 years. So this essay will explore how a migrant or exile Kurdish director, in this case Hiner Saleem, portrays his own people and his motherland in his films.
Film scholar Hamid Naficy explains in his book ‘An Accented Cinema, Exilic and Diasporic Fimmaking’ that exiled directors tend to represents their motherland and their nation with certain natural and cultural symbols such as “mountains, ancient monuments, and ruins…” Furthermore Naficy states that this is especially the case with the directors who belong to nations whose status are “in dispute, as with Palestinians, Kurds, and Armenians.”(Naficy, 160) As stated by Naficy, the statue of Kurds who live in the border of four different states, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria are in dispute. And indeed the Kurdish directors portray the Kurds and Kurdistan via some specific natural and cultural symbols; like snow, high mountains, natural life or music. For example, this is the case with the films of another Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, from Iran. (Kilic, www.kurdishcinema. Com) This essay will examine Saleem’s film in order to see if his representation of Kurds contains such symbolic images. Moreover this essay will make the criticism of Saleem’s film to see if his representation of Kurds has been influenced by his life experience in France. Also a comparison will be made between the films of Hiner Saleem and the films of Bahmah Ghobadi so as to see the differences in their representation of Kurds.
A brief background of Hiner Saleem
Born in the city of Akkra in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1964 Hiner Saleem had to move out of Iraq in 1982. Saleem went first to Italy where he worked as a painter/caricaturist. Then he moved to France where he currently lives and works. It is said that Hiner Saleem did not attend any film school and his interest in cinema started when he was a child. Saleem tells us that while watching TV he had noticed
the presenter spoke in Arabic, so he decided to make a TV program that would be in the Kurdish language. (Kutschera, chris-kutschera.com) As he promised Saleem made two films for TV, Dream Smugglers, and Absolitude.
Representation of Kurdish migrants of France by a migrant Kurdish director
Saleem’s first feature Long Live the Bride, set in Paris, takes the life of Kurdish refugees/migrants who, although living in France, have strong ties with Kurdistan as a subject matter. The film portrays a group of Kurds gathered around an association and working for the “Liberation of Kurdistan” as the film’s title tells us. This film is a pure comedy that concentrates on the comical aspects of the life of Kurdish political activists. Shot in the French and Kurdish language Long Live the Bride is a kind of political satire. The protagonist Cheto, played by French actor Georges Corraface, is a Kurdish migrant living in Paris. Cheto chooses a beautiful Kurdish girl living in Kurdistan from her video image. Interestingly, the girl who arrives happens to be to some extent “ugly” Mina, the sister of the girl who Cheto has chosen. After that the film develops around this funny event. Cheto does not want to marry Mina, played by Marina Kobakhidze, but the pressure of Kurdish society makes him live with her. In time Mina changes and in the end she comes out as a beautiful woman. But for Cheto now fallen-in-love with Mina, it is too late for everything.
Though there are some images from Kurdistan, Long Live the Bride mainly takes place in France. I think an analysis of this film and its representation of Kurds will give us an idea about the influence of Saleem’s life experience in France. The portrayal of Kurdish migrants in this film caused some negative criticism of the Kurdish community of France. Some Kurds blamed the filmmaker for making a false representation of Kurds. For example Chris Kutschera, a famous French journalist, tells us that the reactions of Kurdish audiences were different from the French audiences’ response to the film.
“French filmgoers seem to love Hiner Saleem’s comedy which focuses on a lively community they largely ignored until the film came out. Kurdish audiences however, are divided. While most women love it, many Kurdish men do not like the image the film portrays, especially with regard to their relations with women. Many militants are also shocked by details which they consider to be ‘unrepresentative’; for example the film shows Kurdish militants who drink, who use force to collect the ‘revolutionary tax’, or who interrupt their mission to meet their French girl friends.” (Kutschera, chris-kutschera.com)
To me Saleem’s portrayal of Kurdish people in Long Live the Bride is to some extent problematic. What is noteworthy is that in Saleem’s portrayal of Kurds there is a superior look or outsider’s gaze involved. In this film Saleem ridicules the Kurdish political activists by portraying them as ‘uneducated’ or not ‘westernized’ enough, at least as much as the director. The way people talk to each other and the way in which they discuss the Kurdish issue is rather exaggerated. The Kurds in Long Live the Bride, look strange and weird especially while talking about the fate of Kurdistan. As if those Kurdish migrants in the film were involved in the political activities just for ‘fun’ and the dialogue between them do not provide any crucial knowledge about Kurds and Kurdistan. (Ghiyati, chronicart.com)
The problem with this film is the level of exaggeration. It is said that exaggeration is a part of the comedy. (Taflinger, www.wsu.edu) What I want to say is that when exaggeration is exaggerated too much it becomes somewhat problematic. And I think this is the case with Long Live the Bride. From my point of view the negative response of the Kurdish audiences, especially in France, is the result of this problematic portrayal or representation of the Kurds in the film. According to Kutschera the Kurdish audiences reacted negatively to the film because they believe the film’s portrayal of Kurds was not realistic and was not based on absolute facts. And Kutschera proposes that Saleem’s film does not have to be based on absolute facts because it is not a documentary. Kutschera says: “…it is a comedy based on the lives of Kurdish exiles, torn between their distant homeland and their new country’”. (Kutschera, www.chris-kutschera.com)
Indeed Long Live the Bride is not a documentary and therefore does not have to be based on absolute facts. Nevertheless this does not mean that making a comedy means just ‘ridiculing’ people whom the film deals with. The way a filmmaker portrays certain characters and certain cultures can provide some idea about the directors’ cultural, social and even ideological
perspectives and attitudes towards the subjects of his/her films. And when audiences conceive the attitudes of the director as ‘unsympathetic’ or as ‘being negative’ not surprisingly the filmmaker may receive disapproving reactions. The problem with Long Live the Bride has nothing to do with whether it is based on absolute facts. What I am trying to say is that the excessive exaggeration in portrait of the Kurds creates some problems. The Kurdish characters of Saleem do not even look like Kurds as they are played mostly by non-Kurdish actors/actress. There are almost no characters, with which especially Kurdish audiences can identify themselves, accept to some extent Mina. The Kurds in Long Live Bride are inept in their involvement in political activities, especially while they are meeting and discussing the fate of Kurdistan at the Kurdish association. Saleem almost portrays them as a bunch of people who do not care very much about Kurdistan at all. Throughout the film Saleem just makes fun of Kurds in order to criticize “video marriages”. In Long Live the Bride the Kurds are not even able to deal properly with their own ‘national’ issues. When I watched this film I first thought that the film was made by a French or a Turkish director who does not sympathize with the Kurds at all. I believe a film has to be impartial while being critical in portraying subcultures or different ethnicities living within the context of a bigger society.
Long Live the Bride does not create much sympathy towards Kurds in the eyes of the majority of the audiences. In this way its representation of Kurds causes negative responses in the Kurdish audiences. Interestingly, after receiving negative reactions, Saleem had to explain that he did not want to hurt the struggle of the Kurds and he is one of the supporters of the Kurdish liberation movement. (Kutschera, www.chris-kutschera. Com) In Long Live the Bride, Saleem projects a superior or an outsider’s look at Kurdish migrants. Saleem is being superior because he is assimilated into French culture in every way and he, certainly to a certain degree, becomes a westerner and portrays his characters from a French perspective not a Kurdish one. I think Long Live the Bride reveals how much Saleem has been influenced by French culture, to the extent that he casts a troubled gaze at his own people.
On the other hand the Kurdish-Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi also, to some extent, criticises Kurds and there is always comedy in his films. In Marooned in Iraq (2002) the so called doctor character is portrayed as a selfish and greedy person who only thinks about making money although there is a war and massacres going on in Kurdistan. He even says “God bless Saddam, because of him I earn a lot of money” a line which would disturb most Kurds. Yet on the other hand Ghobadi’s portrayal of the old Kurdish doctor is not just based on ridicule. Later on in the film the doctor is also seen as an indirect victim of Saddam’s regime. In one scene the doctor is seen sitting outside where everywhere is covered by snows. He cries because he has been robbed by thieves.
Criticism of patriarchal Kurdish society
Yet it cannot be said that all the Kurdish audiences reacted in the same negative way towards the film. As stated by Kutschera, for example most Kurdish women love the film as the film makes a criticism of patriarchal Kurdish society. In fact by making the criticism of male/female relationships in the Kurdish community of France Long Live the Bride becomes a feminist film to a certain degree. The final scene of the film is especially noteworthy. The film finishes with an ironic scene in which a group of Kurdish young women are seen watching some video images of some Kurdish men from Kurdistan in order to choose one of them as their future husband. Thus the ending of the film becomes a pure satire and criticism of patriarchal Kurdish culture.
Also it should be said that, in contrast to Naficy’s statement above, there are not much symbolic images that represent Kurds and Kurdistan in this film. Although an exile director, Saleem’s main focus is not on Kurds living in Kurdistan or on his desire or love to his motherland but he is concentrated on the life of Kurdish migrants in France.
Portrayal of Kurds of Armenia
Vodka Lemon, the third feature of Saleem, is a drama with a level of comedy. Set in a Kurdish village of Armenia during winter, Vodka Lemon is about a Kurdish man, Hamo. The Kurdish villagers in Vodka Lemon are so poor that they have to sell their households so as to survive another day or so. Hamo visits his ex-wife’s grave frequently and there he meets a beautiful mature woman, Nina, with whom Hamo falls for. He has three sons but only one of them is with him, the other two living abroad, one in France and the other in Turkmenistan. Hamo waits for the money his son will send from
France but at the end it is his son who asks for money. The story around Hamo is well organized and sub-plots also works well: like the plight of the piano player girl Zine, and Hamo’s granddaughter Avin's marriage with a Kurdish man.
Exposing cultural influence
In Vodka Lemon, Saleem exposes the influence of Armenian and Russian cultures on Kurds living in Armenia. And the director also shows in spite of everything the Kurds still preserve their culture. The Kurdish villagers in Vodka Lemon drink vodka-lemon all day including at the graves of their loved ones. I think the images showing the Kurdish villagers having a lot of alcohol all day in and outside of their home represent the influence of Armenian and Russian cultures on Kurds. In Kurdistan this would not be the case as the majority of Kurds are Muslim and influenced by the Arabic culture. Nonetheless one has to consider the fact that the Kurdish villagers in Vodka Lemon are not Muslim but Yezidi which is a distinct faith or religion of certain Kurds.
Also the dressing of Kurdish villagers gives some idea about the Armenian cultural influence on the Kurdish villagers. The Kurds in Armenia are represented as wearing trousers, skirts and jackets. But the Kurds in Kurdistan dress in traditional Kurdish dresses which is the case in Ghobadi’s film. (Kilic, www.kurdishcinema.com)
Another indicator of cultural interaction is the languages spoken in the film. The Kurdish villagers speak Kurdish, Armenian and Russian, not only with others but also with each other. This means that the Kurdish villagers have close relationship with Armenians and Russians in Armenia and indicates that the Kurds are assimilated sufficiently into the Armenian and Russian cultures.
Likewise the structure of the houses in the Kurdish-Armenian village does not resemble the traditional village houses of Kurdistan which is well portrayed in the films of Bahman Ghobadi. (Kilic, www.kurdishcinema.com)
On the other hand, it could be said that in general Kurdish culture is patriarchal and has very strict restrictions; and thanks to the influence of the Islam, the main religion of Kurds, the most prohibited and unexpected thing for a woman is having sex out of marriage. In this sense the scene in which Dilovan and Romik talks about Avin’s pregnancy is important. Sitting outside on chairs, Dilovan tells Romik that his daughter, Avin, is not a virgin anymore. Apparently Romik’s son had sex with his daughter. Normally in any ordinary Kurdish village when a woman gets pregnant before marriage this creates big problems like fighting between families. Even in some cases the woman who gets pregnant before marriage gets killed by one of her own family members. As the family claims that the woman dirties her family honour. Most importantly not many Kurds would discuss these kinds of issues outside of their houses as they would not want any other villagers to hear of it. So this scene too shows the effect of Armenian and Russian cultures on Yezidi Kurds in Armenia. In this respect the Kurds in Vodka Lemon are represented as secular and open minded people than the Kurds in Kurdistan. What draws attention is the wedding ceremony of Romik’s son and Dilovan’s daughter Avin. At the wedding ceremony the sound of duduk (a kind of flute) connotes Kurdish-Armenian culture but the way the bride and groom greet the people is unusual. The groom brings Avin holding her up in his arms and they sit on a platform facing the crowd. Interestingly there is no Kurdish folk dance. Another point is the song heard during the wedding scene. A woman sings a French love song. Interestingly this is the same song the bus driver was singing during Hamo and Nina’s return from the cemetery. To me this French song could also be another indicator of cultural influence on Kurds of Armenia.
Emphasizing the Kurdishness through the use of Kurdish language and songs
In terms of emphasizing the idea of Kurdishness Vodka Lemon does not significantly refer to it. For instance, the word ‘Kurdistan’ is never heard but only appears twice on a poster sent by Hamo’s son from Paris. Yet at the post office scene Hamo proudly declares that he is a ‘Kurdish Yezidi.’ By describing himself as “Kurdish Yezidi” Hamo also speaks of his religious faith. ‘Yezidism’ is the distinct religion of certain Kurds. What is significant is that Kurdish villagers do not talk about the situation of their mother country Kurdistan. It is noteworthy that in Long Live the Bride and Kilometer Zero the characters have some strong connections with Kurdistan, whereas in Vodka Lemon this connection is so weak. In the two films mentioned above there is some dialogue and scenes that refer to the Kurds or Kurdistan but interestingly Vodka Lemon does not emphasizes on the social life of Kurds and does not refer to the plight of the Kurdish people as a nation. I think the reason for that is the fact Vodka Lemon, as Tom Birchenough suggests is not a social commentary; “In the hands of another director ‘Vodka Lemon’ could have emphasized social commentary. Saleem, however, avoids that direction…” (Birchenough, www.themoscowtimes.com)
The most important way in which Vodka Lemon emphasizes the Kurdishness of its characters is by the use of Kurdish language and songs. Vodka Lemon, in its use of Kurdish language, reveals the fact that the Kurdish villagers still preserve their culture and ethnic identity despite living in a remote village of Armenia. Hence instead of making the characters talk about the plight of Kurdish people, Saleem uses the Kurdish language to highlight the Kurdish culture.
Furthermore the use of Kurdish music plays a crucial role in strengthening the idea of Kurdishness. The heartbreaking Kurdish song in the opening scene is so emotional. It is a classical Kurdish song and probably there is no Kurd who would not feel something in his/her heart while listening to it. From my perspective, Hiner Saleem, by opening the film with this beautiful and affective classical Kurdish song, tries to create a “Kurdish colour” at the beginning of his film. Another Kurdish song is heard when Hamo and Nina return from the cemetery. They drink vodka-lemon and sing a beautiful Kurdish love song. The third time we hear a Kurdish song is in the scene that shows Romik, Hamo and some other villagers sitting at Romik’s house.
Also, it should be stated, the names of the characters highlight the idea of Kurdishness in Vodka Lemon. Many characters in Vodka Lemon have Kurdish names such as Hamo’s son Dilovan, Dilovan’s daughter Avin and Nina’s daughter Zine. All these names also indicate that Kurds preserve their culture by giving Kurdish names to their daughters and son.
Moreover the beautiful snow covered landscape and the scenes during the nights in Vodka Lemon are extraordinary in terms of cinematography. But I think Saleem by setting his films in winter times and reflecting the snow covered landscapes surrounded by high snowy mountains connotes his desire to Kurdistan. As explained above migrant or exiled directors tend to represent their nation or motherland by specific symbolic images. In this sense the snow covered landscape and high snowy mountains in Vodka Lemon are the images that denote Kurdistan which is the motherland of Hiner Saleem.
The Kurds as the victims of the Saddam
Kilometer Zero, set mainly in Iraq during Iran-Iraq war in late 1980s, is partly a road movie. The film develops around a Kurdish man, Ako, who wants to escape from Iraq so as not to join the Iraqi army, but his wife, Selma, cannot leave Iraq before his sick father dies. Later on Ako, even though he is against the war, has to join the Iraqi army unwillingly. While in the army at the Basra front in South Iraq he is summoned to return for the funeral of a soldier to his family in Iraqi Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. After that the film focuses on Ako’s journey. Accompanying him is an Arab driver with whom Ako has some ‘ethnic’ arguments. Finally Ako flees to France with his wife and there they learn the fall of Saddam in 2003.
Kilometer Zero, -a drama with a political aspect-, makes direct references to the Kurdishness of its characters and the cruelties of Saddam Hussein’s regime while portraying the plight of Kurdish people. The Kurds in this film are seen to be teased, beaten, tortured and killed by Iraqi soldiers. Also interesting is the relationship between ordinary Arabs and Kurds represented through Ako and his Arab driver. The scenes that show the Iraqi soldiers killing Kurdish men who are accused of being traitors are striking as the killings are seen from the eyes of a Kurdish man Ako who is also an Iraqi soldier.
The film opens in Paris showing Ako driving a car, and next to him is his wife, Selma. They are listening to a radio station which gives recent news about the US lead invasion of Iraq in 2003. Then, via a flashback the film goes back to Iraqi Kurdistan in 1988. There Ako, wearing his pajamas, is seen walking in a street with bread in one hand.
Suddenly military cars appear and soldiers harshly descend on the people. They search and beat people who later on are taken to a nearby military headquarter. At the entrance of a military building an Iraqi commander stops a fat man, Salih, and asks if he is a Kurd. The fearful Salih says “I am an Arab.” The commander repeats his question. This time Salih acknowledges his being a Kurd. The commander makes him step all the way down without turning his back. Later commander says “Since you are a Kurd you dance well” and so the fat Kurdish man is forced to run back and forth and then, dance. What is interesting with this scene is that there are clear references to the ethnicity of the characters namely that they re Kurds and Arabs. Also by showing the Iraqi soldiers beating and teasing the Kurds, Kilometer Zero creates some sympathy towards Kurds. There is a polarization of oppressor and oppressed mirrored as cruel Iraqi soldiers versus innocent Kurds.
In the following scene at the military headquarter Ako sees an Iraqi soldier shooting a man, most probably a Kurd, on his head. Once it is understood Ako is not an army deserter he is freed. In the next scene, while running back to his home Ako encounters some Iraqi soldiers who took him to the military headquarter. He slows down in fear and the soldiers ask him to jump in the car but Ako just says “No thank you”. Nevertheless the soldiers threaten him and then go. Yet in fear Ako salutes the departing soldiers. Ako’s salute to the Iraqi soldiers who abuse him reveals how much the Kurdish people are subjugated and frightened by the Saddam regime.
Kurds: agents of imperialist
At the end of the day Ako has to join the Iraqi army. On his first day in military camp Ako witnesses the killing of several Kurds. Before the shooting began we see an Arab soldier saying “These are the Kurds who helped the enemy”, a line which makes the Kurdish soldiers angry. In this scene I think the film tries to reveal the problems between the Kurds and Arabs of Iraq. The speech of the Iraqi commander at the military base before the killings is attention grabbing: “We have domestic enemies too. The traitor Kurds are the agents of imperialists and Zionists,” Indeed the Kurds have always been accused of being accomplice of ‘imperialism’ while all the accusers were/are supported by those very imperialists states, like Iraq and Turkey. These kinds of scenes give an idea about the gravity of the massacre the Kurds had been subjected to during the Saddam era. There is a statue of Saddam Hussein that we see in the film. “The movie is haunted by Saddam’s pervasive image, his statues, his self-infatuated voice on the radio.” (Dupont, International Herald Tribune) And I think Saddam’s statue implies Saddam Hussein’s responsibility in the killing of Kurds by Iraqi state forces.
Kurds fighting for their enemy
Strikingly in Kilometre Zero the Kurds are portrayed as people who have to fight for their enemies, in this case for Saddam regime. Kilometer Zero shows how the Kurds are murdered ruthlessly in the blink of an eye by Iraqi soldiers but yet they are forced to join the Iraqi army to fight against Iran. But while being a soldier in the Iraqi army the Kurds are still abused, insulted and “shipped off to the front as bomb and missile fodder in the war with the neighbouring Iran.” (Young, Variety) In fact Ako does not want to go to war but life forces him to join army. His unwillingness is shown in some scenes. While they are at the Basra front, Ako says “Why are we fighting for? What am I doing here?” One of his friend answers him; “We are fighting for Iraq not for Kurdistan.” So Ako decides to find a way out of the war zone. When Ako is summoned to take the corpse of a soldier to his family he accepts the duty willingly. After that the film focuses on Ako’s journey to Iraqi Kurdistan with his Arab driver.
Revealing ethnic and cultural differences through the journey
During the journey there is not much conversation between Ako and his Arab driver but occasionally some ethnic tension arises between the two. For example after eating some food at one of their breaks Ako wipes his mouth with the Iraqi flag wrapped around the coffin, an act that connotes Ako’s hatred towards Iraqi states. But the Arab driver gets angry with Ako and says “You Kurdish people are traitors”. Besides the scene, towards the end of the film, that shows Ako first playing/dancing with Iraqi flag and then kicking, tearing off that very flag is worth mentioning.
In line with Naficy’s point above, there are some images and cultural elements that denote the distinct Kurdish culture and Kurdistan. For example at a certain point in their journey Kurdish music is heard in the back ground indicating that the two have arrived in the Kurdish area. When they enter the mountainous Kurdistan region Ako gets out of the car and kneels down to kiss the land demonstrating his desire and love for Kurdistan. The Arab driver also likes the landscape of Kurdistan and says “It is
like a heaven”. But once Ako says “This is Kurdistan” the driver gets angry again and says “There is no Kurdistan, this is Iraq, Iraq!” In one of the following scenes, the Arab driver is seen listening to an Arabic song while they are in Kurdistan. This time Ako gets angry and turns off the cassette player. They pull over the car to talk about their ethnic identity and cultural difference, but interestingly enough none of them starts the discussion; conversely they beat each other. I have to say that the dialogues between Kurdish Ako and the Arab driver are not that influential though they emphasize fact that “there is little possibility of ever finding much common ground between them”. (Kutschera, www.chris- kutschera.com) Yet Samir Farid, an Arabic film critic, thinks that the journey sequence is crudely executed.
“One of the more intriguing aspects of the film is why Saleem failed to make the nameless Arab driver a rounded character- conscious decision, it would seem- though one wonders whether the answer to Arab racism is Kurdish racism. The film, is not devoid, however, of poignancy in the way it depicts Kurdish-Arab relations: the moment at which Ako and the driver discuss the conflict, for example, each from his vantage point; they are hurling hostile questions at each other and when the questions remain unanswered, in the end, the viewer does not feel that either party is in the wrong.” (Farid, weekly.ahram.org)
Secular Kurds, religious Arabs
Furthermore in terms of revealing cultural differences between Kurds and Arabs, the film portrays the Kurds as more secular. In one of earlier scenes, the Arab driver asks Ako if he has any children. Ako shows him the picture of his son and his wife. When Ako asks if the Arab driver has any picture of his family, interestingly the driver only shows the picture of his son, covering the picture of his wife with his hand. Seeing that makes Ako angry and he says “As if I am going to eat her!” Also, in one of the other scenes, the Arab driver is seen praying while Ako stands up staring at the landscape. I think that in these scenes Kurdish culture is being represented as a secular, in contrast to Arabs who are portrayed as non-secular people.
Use of landscape to alienate the audience
During the journey only a few people and small buildings appear on the screen. All we see are some soldiers, an executed person, a shop keeper and two praying people. There is no trace of life around, only Ako, his Arab driver and the coffin on top of their car. The landscape is not that attractive and the way the camera reflects it, not just during the journey but also in the Kurdish area, is not that effective. The representation of bare and unattractive landscape during the journey helps alienating the viewers from Saddam regime and depicts the confinement of Ako and the Kurdish people in Iraq under Saddam regime.
Corresponding to general tendency of migrant director in depicting their motherland, in Kilometer Zero there are high mountains representing Kurds and Kurdistan along with some Kurdish music. But what should be stated is that Saleem’s portrayal of Kurdistan’s landscape is not that attractive and does not create significant dramatic effect. Yet there are some dialogue the refer Kurds’ love towards their country. For example, in one of the other earlier scenes, some Kurdish soldiers are seen in the back of a military vehicle going down to the Basra front. One of them, Salih, says “Look at those Kurdistan Mountains, we will not see them again.” But the way the mountains and the landscape are reflected, not just in this scene but throughout the film, does not create significant dramatic effect, at least from my perspective.
This essay analyzed three films of Hiner Saleem who is a migrant Kurdish director living in France so as to understand his portrayal of Kurds. Long Live the Bride, a comedy, reflects the life of Kurdish migrant living in France. In Long Live the Bride the director criticizes the way Kurdish men choose a wife and in Saleem’s depiction of migrant Kurds is not very sympathetic as there is a kind of ‘superior’ look involved. On the other hand the portrayal of Kurds in Vodka Lemon is more sympathetic, also it is the case in Kilometer Zero.
Vodka Lemon pictures the life struggle of Kurdish villagers in a mountainous and snow covered landscape of Armenia with a dramatic/lyric way. And the beautiful landscape of this film is reminiscent of Kurdistan’s landscape. I think the resemblance has something to do with the director’s desire to his homeland. As explained above, mountains and snow are the some specific geographic symbols used by exiled directors to represent their motherland. In Kilometre Zero the film is driven mainly by dialogues. There are direct references to the plight of Kurds and Kurdistan. The dialogues play significant role in Long Live the Bride also.
The director shows the Kurds in Kilometer Zero as a people who are oppressed under Saddam regime and who have to flee their country, as represented in Ako character, as a result of the oppression. Whereas in Vodka Lemon the Kurds represented as living in harmony with other ethnicities and cultures, such as Armenian and Russians, in Kilometer Zero the Kurds are shown as having great and insoluble problems with Arabs of Iraq.
What should also be noted is that Saleem films are a mixture of Kurdish and French cultural elements. The languages, songs, dialogue or even the topics of his films always have something to do with France. For example in Long Live the Bride the characters live in France, in Vodka Lemon Hamo’s son lives in Paris, and Ako runs to France in Kilometer Zero. I think the ‘French connection’ in Saleem’s films as the natural result of his life experience in France and making his films financed through some French production companies or institutions. For instance in Vodka Lemon the use of the French song and the fact that one of Hamo’s son lives in France, to some extent, have something to do with Saleem’s endeavor of trying to put as many ‘French elements’ as possible into the film in order to get French financial support for shooting and distribution of his film. Apparently those French elements weren’t enough, as certain French institutions did not provide the expected financial support on the basis that there weren’t enough “French” words in Vodka Lemon. (www.wikipedia.com)
Another point is that while Long Live the Bride and Kilometer Zero make direct references about Kurds and Kurdistan, in Vodka Lemon there are lesser direct references about Kurds. In Long Live the Bride and Vodka Lemon Saleem concentrates on the life of Kurdish migrants or the Kurds who live outside of Kurdistan but in Kilometer Zero Saleem turns his camera to Kurdistan and focuses on the plight of Kurds living there. In Vodka Lemon Saleem shows us that the daily life of the Kurds living in Armenia or in other countries such as France, differs from the daily life of Kurds living in Kurdistan, be it villagers or city dwellers. For example drinking alcohol at someone’s grave would not be appropriate in Kurdistan, but in Armenia and maybe in somewhere else in the world where the Kurds live, it is a part of the local culture.
Devrim Kilic is a freelance writer living in Melbourne
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------------------- ‘Kurdistan Iraq: Out of Exile, Hiner Saleem Tells the Joys and Sadness of Coming Home’. Www.chris-kutschera.com 16 December 2006 http://www.chris-kutschera.com/A/Hiner.htm
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