An Italian homefront melodrama is transported to the combat zone in Gianluca Maria Tavarelli’s “Another South,” as a Sicilian widow ventures into Iraq to seek revenge on the family of the suicide bomber who blew up her husband. Deconstructing the stages of hubby’s multiple deployments to Iraq through his spouse’s eyes, this complex tapestry of flashbacks mirrors the mental and physical displacements of both husband and wife, totally scrambling time and place. Rather demanding of viewers who must reassemble the widely scattered fragments of its mosaic, Tavarelli’s film nevertheless pays off in a fascinating dual re-creation of postwar traumatic stress.
As a doctor, Stefania (Isabella Ragonese) has all the answers as she seeks to alert the population of her Sicilian town to the myriad life-threatening illnesses and deformities caused by factory pollution. Yet she seems utterly clueless diagnosing her soldier husband, Roberto (Francesco Scianna), who exhibits increasingly disturbed behavior upon his returns from successive deployments in Iraq. As he admits to her, all he wants to do is go home when in Iraq, but, once home, he’s driven to re-enlist, unable to fit his war experiences into civilian life.
When Roberto dies in a suicide bombing, Stefania angrily thirsts for revenge, joining up with a medical, Iraqi-based NGO as a cover for her quest. With the reluctant help of a young Iraqi translator, Khaleed (Mehdi Dehbi), Stefania clandestinely dons a burka and, whenever possible, leaves the safety of the Green Zone in search of the family of her husband’s killer.
Though the film is structured entirely through Stefania’s admittedly fragmented p.o.v., it proves extremely difficult to completely identify with her. Despite the quasi-universality of Roberto’s traumatic reaction to the Iraqi war, Stefania’s belief in the uniqueness and depth of her relationship with her husband fails to acknowledge any experience greater than their love. The film’s constant jumping back and forth in space and time mirrors her inability to recognize change or accept the existence of a place in her husband’s emotional landscape to which she has no access. All this makes her lust for vengeance more understandable, if no less irrational.
Indeed, for much of “Another South,” Stefania remains a remarkably unpleasant character, her incomprehension rendering her insensitive to her husband’s needs and insistent on his attention, her subsequent grief turning her downright mean. In her ongoing interactions with Kahleed, who risks life and limb for a vengeance that seems entirely senseless to him, she constantly, contemptuously, accuses him of just being in it for the money she pays him, heedless of whose survival that money may guarantee or how much he might try to sway her from her self-destructive course. Her dealings with the dedicated Italian doctors and nurses in the Iraqi NGO barely pass as civil. And she shows a singular lack of compassion toward the Iraqi children she treats, even risking the life of a little girl in exchange for information about the bomber’s family.
The film’s ending marks a tentative detente, a late-dawning recognition of cross-cultural similarities. But through the character of Stefania, Tavarelli forces viewers to experience the disorientation of war, its erosion of compassion and destruction of chronology or any sense of continuum. Marco Pieroni’s lensing makes the most of the constant jarring Iraq/Italy, night/day, desert/ocean juxtapositions, while Alessandro Heffler’s editing reflects a mind’s attempt to reaarrange the debris of an exploded life.