Review: ‘Beyond Our Dreams’

A sprawling, tumultuous story told with fable-like simplicity, "Beyond Our Dreams" sports both the virtues and limits of gentleness. Kurdish-French helmer Hiner Saleem's second feature tracks a young refugee couple's flight from Kurdistan to hopeful sanctuary in Paris, braving travails comic and tragic on their long, serpentine path. But despite saga's current events relevance and some credibly harsh twists of fate, pic plays everything within a narrow tonal range, downplaying the more wrenching material in favor of a sweet natured, occasionally poignant p.o.v. Likely to travel far on the fest circuit, honorable effort may ultimately be too meek a reflection of the contempo refugee experience for widespread theatrical export.

Asprawling, tumultuous story told with fable-like simplicity, “Beyond Our Dreams” sports both the virtues and limits of gentleness. Kurdish-French helmer Hiner Saleem’s second feature tracks a young refugee couple’s flight from Kurdistan to hopeful sanctuary in Paris, braving travails comic and tragic on their long, serpentine path. But despite saga’s current events relevance and some credibly harsh twists of fate, pic plays everything within a narrow tonal range, downplaying the more wrenching material in favor of a sweet natured, occasionally poignant p.o.v. Likely to travel far on the fest circuit, honorable effort may ultimately be too meek a reflection of the contempo refugee experience for widespread theatrical export.

Already struggling toward an uncertain destination at the outset, childhood sweethearts Dolovan (Olivier Sitruk) and Zara (Rosanna Vite Mesropian) are first seen huffing across the frozen Caucasian Mountains. Not by choice: Saying “We have no country,” Dolovan is resigned to the necessity of leaving their lifelong village in Mesopotamia, where ethnic strife has drawn a vicious line between local Kurds and their suddenly intolerant neighbors. Zara is more reluctant, and their odyssey starts very badly as her elderly parents, lagging behind, are lost to the elements.

Duo forge onward to Armenia, where for lack of cash they must bide time with other evacuees at the “Winter Palace,” a ragged hostel-cum-commune presided over by a benevolent Kurdish “tsar.” Settling in here for a while, pic evokes passing memories of the charmingly surreal comedics of ’60s ensemble pieces by Jiri Menzel and other Eastern Euro New Wavers.

When Zara discovers that her late father’s suitcase is stuffed with currency, everyone celebrates; this young couple, at least, won’t be ending their days here. But this unforeseen windfall also puts Dolovan and Zara at the mercy of various shady smugglers, guides and counterfeiters — they have the cash to proceed, but not the visas to do so legally. All too soon, police separate the two, hauling Dolovan off a train during an ID check. He escapes arrest, but must now make his own way while Zara remains in the untrustworthy hands of their black market trafficker. Menaced, robbed and abandoned in the Ukraine, she drops out of the narrative, whereabouts unknown, for feature’s long midsection.

Distraught, Dolovan tries to find her as best he can while dodging authorities, taking illegal jobs and caring for a little girl when her Kurdish father is nabbed by Italian Immigration. Dolovan is in Paris when Zara finally turns up to make good on their vow to reach the city. Yet even then the journey is not yet complete, the future still unstable. Somewhat unconvincingly cheerful fade has duo again on the road to who-knows-where, impulsively deciding to conceive a child.

Always watchable, with a leisurely but confident pace, pic casts this archetypal 1990s real-world story as a vaguely mythic one, colored by streaks of absurdism, pathos and fairy-tale wish fulfillment. Still, “Beyond Our Dreams” never takes a flying leap toward any one tactic, and story’s basic realism ends up underserved by this semi-gritty, semi-fanciful treatment. Developments that might easily have achieved real emotional power — the sad fates of several subsidiary emigrants, not to mention Zara’s presumably harrowing solo months — are skimmed past, or just half-explained later on. (Zara’s missing months remain a mystery.)

If scenario seems to call for dramatic peaks and valleys rather than the gently rolling hills Saleem contrives, “Beyond” does endear itself somewhat through the sheer warmth and stubborn optimism of its humanist approach. Lead Sitruk, seldom offscreen, ballasts saga with his soulful, grave presence. Mesropian makes a fetching if less distinct impression, while large supporting ensemble snugly inhabits a wide range of character types.

Filmed across several countries, pic is most alluring in its landscape shots; interior sequences are staged serviceably. Another major plus in well-handled package is Nikos Kipourgos’ wistful, restrained orchestral score.

Beyond Our Dreams

France - Armenia - Italy

Production

A UGC Intl. and Les Films du Rivage production in association with MK2 Diffusion and Canal Plus. Produced by Marc Ruscart. Executive producers, Norair Azatian, Enrico Ballarine, Guido Cerasuolo. Directed, written by Hiner Saleem.

Crew

Camera (color), Andreas Sinanos; editor, Monique Prim; music, Nikos Kipourgos; costume designer, Anne Livolsi; sound, Fabrice Alcolea. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (World Cinema), Aug. 28, 2000. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Dolovan - Olivier Sitruk Zara - Rosanna Vite Mesropian
With: Ramen Avinian, Edik Bagdassarian, Boris Maloyan, Mariana Dourgarian, Kamal Hamarash, Jacky Narcessian, Anemone, Patrick Bauchitey, Rodolfo Corsato, Fabrice Bernard, Izak Azatian, Kamal Halarash.

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