Greek documaker Stavros Ioannou’s feature debut adds another point of view to the growing body of films about the Kurdish people. “Roadblocks” is borderline documentary, with parts filmed on video and entire scenes stolen, via telephoto lens, from the life of refugees camped out in Athens. Pic remains strangely distant from its subject, and the characters — though sympathetically portrayed — come across as impetuous, immature youths with whom it’s hard to identify. In contrast to other Kurdish-themed films, like the Turkish “Journey to the Sun” and Iranian “A Time for Drunken Horses,” this one delivers the blunt facts without the artistry needed to involve auds. Fest and TV outings look likely.
Protags are two brothers. In a tense opener, Hussein from Iraqi Kurdistan crosses a river and minefield on his way across hostile Turkey to find his brother, Ahmet, who has vanished in Greece. Learning he left for Italy by “the Albanian route” — an overcrowded rubber raft run by the Albanian mafia — Hussein calls his father back in their bombed-out village, urging him to sell the house and send money to finance his search.
Unable to get an Italian visa, Hussein chooses “the truck route” to Italy, hiding in the back of a lorry as it is loaded on a ferry. Discovery means getting beaten up by Greek truck drivers, with a suggestion of worse things offscreen. As luck would have it, Hussein’s fellow stowaway once knew Ahmet, and gradually tells his story.
In a series of overlong flashbacks, Ahmet is seen living in a cold, rainy tent city in an Athenian square set aside for Kurdish refugees, receiving food and clothes from charitable Greek citizens. Grainy blown-up lensing makes this part of the film look like a sociological documentary, while new characters are briefly introduced to tell their horror stories about wars, bombs and fighting in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and other nations.
These young men with an uncertain future become mouthpieces for slogans — “A Kurd is a slave,” “We’re used to living like dogs,” “We don’t want food, we want freedom.” Helmer’s telephoto lens and inexpressive non-pro cast keep them at arm’s length throughout.