A worthy message is suffocated by soap-style dialogue and plotting in “The Flowers of Kirkuk,” the sophomore feature from Italian-based Kurdish helmer Fariborz Kamkari. Set in Iraq during the last year of the Iran-Iraq War, the pic recounts the impossible love between an Arab woman and a Kurdish man, but admirable sentiments are lost in a script that tries patience and believability. Star Morjana Alaoui, so memorable in her debut, “Marock,” deserves a better vehicle for her talents. Commercial prospects are unlikely to survive probable critical drubbing, while the presence of superior Kurdish product may limit fest travel.
On receiving a letter from her fiance, Sherko (model Ertem Eser), saying they must never see each other again, medical intern Najla (Alaoui) drops her studies in Italy to return to Iraq and confront Sherko on his mysterious change of heart. It’s 1988, when the Kurdish parts of the country are especially riven by internal strife; Kamkari’s inclusion of a very tired shot of a doll run over by an army truck signals his lack of subtlety.
Najla finally locates Sherko in a Kurdish enclave, but not before assisting in a difficult childbirth, when as soon as the baby pops out, the new mother (Shilan Rahmani) warns Najla to stay away. Medical ethics and true love transcend ethnic tensions, but Najla’s cartoonishly macho/devout cousin Rasheed (Ashraf Hamdi) does all he can to keep the pair apart, while rising army officer Mokhtar (Mohamed Zouaoui, far more nuanced) tries to convince Najla he’s real husband material.
By the time Najla’s arrested and placed in a theatrically blood-splattered torture room, “Flowers” starts to resemble a grade-C anti-Nazi pic from the 1940s, with situations that beggar belief coupled with lines such as “Kirkuk is no place for love.” Vet thesp Mohammed Bakri bookends the pic as Sherko 20 years on, returning to the scene after Saddam Hussein’s fall in a superfluous attempt to evoke the bittersweet relief of Iraqi-Kurdish semi-independence.
Whispered poetry, accompanied by guitar music, does not help evoke a mood of longing, and the real tragedy of the Kurdish genocide is subsumed by contrived meller situations. Kamkari hasn’t been able to smooth out the clumsiness of execution apparent in his debut feature, “The Forbidden Chapter,” despite Alaoui’s charisma and Eser’s visual charms. Lensing is solid if unremarkable, utilizing largely controlled handheld camerawork to convey a sense of instability. Overly artificial lighting, however, will play better on TV.