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.