BAGHDAD — He waited four years for it but finally Iraqi filmmaker Mohammed al-Daradji has released his award-winning movie “Ahlaam” (Dreams), a searing account of the last moments of Saddam Hussein’s regime, in his native Iraq.
Pic initially preemed in Baghdad last year but improvements in the security situation in the country allowed the helmer to hold an additional screening for an invited audience in Baghdad before being given three public showings last week in Arbil, capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Daradji was there to mark the occasion.
“I’m very happy that this movie, which covers events on a historical day, that will forever remain in the Iraqi memory, is being screened,” the director told reporters.
“The movie has participated in so many international festivals and now it has finally come to Iraq,” he said, adding that until now the political and security situation in Iraq had been considered too fraught to screen the movie.
“Ahlaam” revolves around the lives of three people in a mental asylum after suffering for years under Saddam’s regime.
Ahlaam, a young woman who witnesses the violent arrest of her fiance on their wedding day and Ali, a former soldier now shell-shocked and traumatized by the American bombings, are patients in the asylum. Dr. Mehdi works at the institution and longs for a free Iraq where humanity is cherished, not brutalized by hatred and fear.
The institution is bombed during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and their lives are thrown into turmoil.
The movie tracks the lives of the three in the wake of the bombings. Played by Acil Adel, the central character of Ahlaam escapes the hospital and has to negotiate the dangerous bomb-littered landscape of the Iraqi capital.
She is raped, first by looters, and then by American soldiers — an allegory of what the helmer believes has befallen Iraq.
Daradji had been living in exile in Europe to escape Saddam’s henchmen when the war broke out. In 2003 he returned home to make a film about the plight of ordinary Iraqi people in the aftermath of the invasion.
He shot “Ahlaam” in the streets of Baghdad in difficult conditions, which included curfews and electricity cuts. He and members of his crew were detained at various times both by insurgents and by the U.S. military.
Since the 100-minute feature film was completed in 2004, it has played at international festivals around the world, including in Cairo, Dubai, Carthage, Rotterdam, Munich, Moscow, New York, Seattle and Tokyo.
Pic has won numerous awards, including the best Arabic film at the Cairo International film festival in 2005, the special jury prize in the Arabe du Monde Cinema in Paris 2006 and the best actor award at Carthage, also in 2006.
The filmmaker bewailed the fate of cinema in Iraq — only one theater remains open in Baghdad, showing B-grade movies while most cinema halls across the country have closed their doors.
Daradji said he is working on a new project, which he also plans to shoot in Baghdad, despite the dangers still on the streets.
Production on the new project is set to start later this year, which will look at life in post-invasion Iraq.