France, Iraq | 77 MINUTES
ZAMAN, THE MAN FROM THE REEDS
One of the first feature films to come out of Iraq in fifteen years, Zaman, The Man from the Reeds was shot under difficult circumstances in January 2003, just before the war began. A quiet, lyrical picture in the Iranian realist tradition, it finds drama not in falling bombs, but in the aging Zaman's (Sami Kaftan) life-or-death quest to find the medicine that could save his beloved wife (Shadha Salim.) Life in Mesopotamia dates back to 3000 B.C., and people still live in floating reed houses in the Tigris and Euphrates swampland. From this ancient world of reeds and waterfowl (destroyed in large part by Saddam Hussein's regime), Zaman journeys to urban modernity. Yet even his timeless world is shaken by international events, from an orphan's traumatic memories of his parents killed in the last Gulf War, to the sound of invisible military jets flying overhead, to the undiagnosed illnesses that have begun to strike the population. The film's strength rests on a successful blend of fiction and documentary techniques, including the strange one of having Zaman answer questions posed by an off-screen interviewer. Director Amer Alwan, returning to Iraq for the first time in 20 years, takes a documentarian's delight in capturing the unglamorous atmosphere of modern Baghdad as one big dusty traffic jam. On the fictional side, professional actors Kaftan and Salim, who are major stars in Iraq and were childhood idols of Alwan, use their expressive faces to deepen very simple roles. Alwan experienced hardship and censorship during filming but managed to finish just a few days before the American intervention. Five of his DV tapes (the format he'd been forced to use because of the official prohibition against importing negative stock into Iraq) were confiscated by Saddam's regime and disappeared forever. Despite being forced to shoot the film on DV, cinematographer Thomas Cichawa captures some breathtaking images of this natural paradise.