The whodunit aspects of "Quest for Honor" are less important than the whys -- why are Middle Eastern "honor killings" committed against women, why are such crimes largely condoned by authorities (or at least meet little opposition), and why was a woman in jeans and high heels left shot to death on the side of a road in remote Iraqi Kurdistan?

The whodunit aspects of “Quest for Honor” are less important than the whys — why are Middle Eastern “honor killings” committed against women, why are such crimes largely condoned by authorities (or at least meet little opposition), and why was a woman in jeans and high heels left shot to death on the side of a road in remote Iraqi Kurdistan? In Mary Ann Smothers Bruni’s ironically titled doc, the supposed sins of the dead woman are never revealed, nor should they be: This story is about a culture of barbarism. Exposure will be limited to the arthouse/educational circuit.

For all its earnest and noble intent, “Quest for Honor” might have been a magazine article — it’s difficult to make an issue into a stimulating film when there’s so little to move it visually. There is a photo of the dead woman and, later, footage of her body being tossed onto a truck. There are interviews, too: Almost everything the viewer learns is provided via conversation, usually between two principals in the story.

Among them: Runak Faraj, leader of the Women’s Media Center of Suleymaniyah, Iraq, and the film’s key character. In a typical scene, Faraj meets with a local police chief named Abdullah to discuss the case: A young woman was found shot twice at close range, which Abdullah says indicates rage on the part of the killers. When it is learned that the victim, a widow named Nesrin, had her children taken away from her by her in-laws — who also refused to collect her body — an outline of the case starts to emerge and Faraj starts investigating.

Meanwhile, a woman in a supposed “safe house” is shot three times in Suleymaniyah. The story is far from a thriller, despite Bruni’s half-hearted attempts to make it one, but what the pic lacks in suspense, it makes up for in irony: The shooting victim, who lived, was preparing for evening prayer, while relatives were trying to kill her. A number of the interviews conducted — one is with the suspected shooter — are revelatory, either in the glimpses they offer into Kurdish Muslim life or the appallingly sexist attitudes they expose.

Production values are adequate.

Quest For Honor

Production

An SB Prods. presentation. Produced by Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, Lawrence Taub. Executive producers, Frances Farenthold, Philip Knox Key, Sarah Elizabeth Lamar Bruni. Co-producer, Warzer Jaff. Directed, written by Mary Ann Smothers Bruni.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Kristian Dane Lawig; editors, Deborah Dickson, Timothy K. Smith, Gabriel Ernest Rhodes; music, Wendy Blackstone; supervising sound editor, Paul Bercovitch; re-recording mixer, Patrick Donahue; associate producers, Ferhat Birusk Tugan, Lawen Asad, Hemen Kaikay, Katia Maguire, Gulbahar Tely Asmar. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema -- competing), Jan. 19, 2009. Running time: 60 MIN. (Kurdish, English dialogue)
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