×

Underexposure

Billed as the first feature shot in occupied Baghdad, "Underexposure" is a valiant if uneven attempt to resurrect Iraq’s long-dormant film industry. Freshman helmer Oday Rasheed looks at the devastated city through the eyes of a fictional director, but while he successfully depicts the mood of paralyzing uncertainty, his vision remains unfocused.

With:
With: Samer Qahtan, Yousif Al-Ani, Auwatif Al-Salman, Hayder Helo, Majed Rasheed, Meriam Abbas, Khalid Al-Samarai, Basim Hamed, Basim Al-Tayib, Adil Khalid, Muhanad Rasheed, Hayder Jokan, Basim Al-Hajaz, Abu Suhad, Abu Wisam.

Billed as the first feature shot in occupied Baghdad, “Underexposure” is a valiant if uneven attempt to resurrect Iraq’s long-dormant film industry. Freshman helmer Oday Rasheed looks at the devastated city through the eyes of a fictional director, but while he successfully depicts the mood of paralyzing uncertainty, his vision remains unfocused. International backing arrived when X Filme viewed raw material and agreed to coproduce; questions linger as to whether project represents a complete version or a work in progress. Considering the subject matter, curiosity will remain high, though Stateside exposure will likely be limited to fest play.

Cameraman Ziyad (Majed Rasheed, helmer’s brother and pic’s producer) provides the opening voiceover narration, setting out the nebulous guidelines for a film project conceived by director Hassan (Samer Qahtan). With a limited quantity of celluloid, 20 years beyond its expiration date (mirroring “Underexposure” itself), the two begin work trying to capture the inescapable yet undefinable qualities of life in Baghdad circa 2003, paralyzed by trauma.

Popular on Variety

Initially the streets contain more burning detritus than people, contributing to the sense of an underpopulated nightmare. Hassan and his crew interview locals, unsure where their film will take them, but unable to impose form on the structurelessness of life in Baghdad itself. Hassan’s home life with wife Maysoon (Meriam Abbas) is fraught with tension, as his obsession with recording the hell around him conflicts with her neurotic need to stay inside their apartment.

Six months later American soldiers are in control, and while daily activities resume with greater normalcy, Hassan still can’t figure out how to record the uneasy mixture of chaos and fear that grips the city. His interviewees, ranging from the mildly autistic Nasser (Hayder Helo) to the Kurdish Abu Shaker (Yousif Al-Ani) have lost adaptive elasticity, first after years under a dictatorship and now in the throes of a political and social vacuum. With film running out and his wife anxious to discover whether their pre-war lives can be resurrected, Hassan struggles to define the emptiness that overwhelms him and his project.

Helmer Rasheed, who co-scripted with actor Helo, appears to deliberately blur the lines between fact and fiction, using Hassan as his doppelganger.

Shooting amid the rubble, with occasional shots of American servicemen rolling down Baghdad streets in their tanks, Rasheed imposes chapters (“Interview 1”; “Emptiness”), which provide only a disconnected structure — too often it appears Rasheed himself is uncertain how to take this film to the next level, notwithstanding influences from works such as “Hiroshima mon amour.” Throughout, he maintains a fine photographer’s eye for composition, but the assembly fails to elicit raw emotion, and his handling of the actors is mixed.

An occasional yellowish tone appears to be the only sign the film stock used is long past expiration, and tech credits, including sound, are remarkably trouble-free. Pic’s title is meant to refer not only to the celluloid itself but to the sense of isolation felt by Baghdad’s residents after more than a decade under sanctions, but surprisingly little is made of either device.

Underexposure

Iraq-Germany

Production: An Enlil Film Production (Iraq), X Filme Creative Pool (Germany) production. (International sales: X Filme Creative Pool, Berlin.) Produced by Majed Rasheed. Co-producers, Tom Tykwer, Maria Kopf. Executive producer, Furat al Jamil. Directed by Oday Rasheed. Screenplay, Rasheed, Hayder Helo.

Crew: Camera (color), Ziyad Turkey; editor, Antje Zynga; music, Gabriel Yared; art director, Dharam Abdul Wahad; set designer, Hussein Kamel; costume designer, Mina Plenker; sound, Iman Qasim; sound designer, Dirk Jacob. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Cinema of the World), Feb. 3, 2005. Running time: 67 MIN.

With: With: Samer Qahtan, Yousif Al-Ani, Auwatif Al-Salman, Hayder Helo, Majed Rasheed, Meriam Abbas, Khalid Al-Samarai, Basim Hamed, Basim Al-Tayib, Adil Khalid, Muhanad Rasheed, Hayder Jokan, Basim Al-Hajaz, Abu Suhad, Abu Wisam.

More Film

  • The Cost of Silence

    'The Cost of Silence': Film Review

    A decade has passed since 2010’s Deepwater Horizon tragedy, history’s most catastrophic oil drilling accident that occurred when a BP-operated pipe exploded, leaking millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. There was no successful intervention for months, and time hasn’t healed all wounds. On the contrary, it opened new, irreversible ones as [...]

  • Nardjes A.

    ‘Invisible Life’s’ Karim Ainouz Drops Trailer for 'Nardjes A.’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    On Feb. 14 last year, Karim Aïnouz arrived in Algeria to trace via the story of his parents the Algerian Revolution which happened 60 years ago – its 1954-62 War of Independence from France. The uprising he very quickly started to shoot, however, was one happening right then, the Revolution of Smiles, whose first street [...]

  • Call of the Wild

    Harrison Ford in 'The Call of the Wild': Film Review

    Dogs, in their rambunctious domesticated way, can lead us overly civilized humans a step or two closer to the natural world. So it’s only fitting that the best dog movies have saluted that unruly canine spirit without a lot of artificial flavoring. Hollywood’s classic dog tales, like “Old Yeller” (1957) or “Lassie Come Home” (1943), [...]

  • Adventures of a Mathematician

    Indie Sales Unveils Trailer For 'Adventures of a Mathematician' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In the run up to Berlin’s European Film Market, Indie Sales has unveiled the trailer for Thor Klein’s “Adventures of a Mathematician” which had its world premiere in Palm Springs. The film tells the inspiring true story of a Polish-Jewish mathematician who got a fellowship at Harvard and went on to join the prestigious Manhattan [...]

  • Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE

    How Internet Backlash Helped 'Sonic the Hedgehog' Avoid Box Office Disaster

    It’s not a stretch to say Universal’s “Cats” and Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” had two of the most polarizing movie trailers in recent memory. Both caught fire online for all the wrong reasons after fans on social media torched the questionable CGI. “Cats,” an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, used a new science called [...]

  • Neumond Berlin Germany Restaurant

    Berlin Offers Diversity in Restaurant Scene

    Berlin Film Festival attendees have a chance to sample the diverse cuisine of a foodie city. Some of the top pics for a pre-film repast: Adana Grillhaus  A hugely popular Turkish restaurant in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, Adana Grillhaus now has a second location right around the corner. Popular on Variety Manteuffelstr. 86 +49 30 6127790 [...]

  • my salinger year

    Berlin Festival's New Selection Committee Takes Off

    Berlin’s new seven-member selection committee — four women and three men — comprises the core of new director Carlo Chatrian’s programming staff, which is led Canadian critic Mark Peranson. Peranson was the Locarno Film Festival’s chief of programming when Chatrian headed that Swiss festival. This year, Berlin is opening with “My Salinger Year,” starring Sigourney [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content