×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Iraqi Odyssey’

Single-monikered helmer Samir uses his extended family as archetypes of the Iraqi diaspora in this overlong yet surprisingly engrossing docu.

With:
Samira Jamal Aldin, Sabah Jamal Aldin, Souhair Jamal Aldin, Jamal Al Tahir, Tanya Uldin, Samir. Voices: Ellen Wagner, Tom Zahner, Ann Malcolm, Laura Zonka. (Arabic, English, German, Russian dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3904176/reference

Revolutionary hope, coups and counter-coups, then exile: Such is the distressingly common pattern for millions of middle-class Arabs from the mid-20th century until now. Single-monikered helmer Samir uses members of his extended family as archetypes of this diaspora in his overlong yet surprisingly engrossing docu, “Iraqi Odyssey,” designed to capture the vicissitudes of Iraq’s troubled history via one clan’s personal take on the last century. The perfunctory use of 3D and excessive running time won’t attract more viewers, but fest programmers understanding the need to demystify a nationality often seen only in one-dimensional form should take a look.

Two versions of the multi-lingo pic exist: one with Arabic narration and English subtitles, the other with English voiceover and Arabic subtitles. Unfortunately, the grating delivery of the actors hired to do the English voiceover, spoken as if part of a theater production for children, requires considerable mental adjustment and won’t expand the film’s audience base. Samir’s previous docu, “Forget Baghdad,” about four Iraqi Jews, will likely have seen more traction than “Odyssey” can achieve, though as part of a growing number of pics dealing with the Arab diasporic experience (Philippe Aractingi’s “Heritages,” to name one recent example), the film occupies a valuable niche and deserves recognition.

“Odyssey” is loosely organized into three chapters, with the first two sections blending into one another as they introduce the family in both past and present forms. The Jamal Aldin clan are Sayyids, meaning they trace their descent from the Prophet and include prominent figures in Iraqi public life. Samir’s branch, starting with his grandfather, became secularists during the anti-British resistance immediately following the Arab Revolt, and later, under the aegis of the Communist Party, advocated for the fall of the Hashemite monarchy.

Post-coup stability didn’t last long, and in the coming decades the tenuous political situation resulted in many Jamal Aldins leaving the country. Samir’s mother was Swiss, so the family moved to Zurich; others led more peripatetic lives, heading to Beirut, Lausanne, Paris, Kuwait. Following his communist sympathies, Jamal Al Tahir moved to Moscow, where he remains. A family reunion in Lebanon in 1969, several years after the Ba’athist regime took control at home, had them questioning whether they’d ever return. Some, like Samir’s father, did go back, but the country under Saddam Hussein wasn’t a healthy place for a middle-class, politically progressive family of intellectuals.

The final chapter of the docu traces members in places as far-flung as Auckland, New Zealand, and Buffalo, N.Y. A few dream of returning; others have no illusions. Traveling across the globe while overcoming undoubted logistical hurdles, Samir captures his family in all their warmth and resilience, along with a hint of wistfulness, of fond remembrances when the Arab revolutions of the 1950s offered hope that an equitable, liberal society was possible. The failure of those dreams provides an inescapable, and disturbing, silent commentary on more recent unrest in the region.

Many of the facts Samir presents are fairly basic, though it does provide the Jamal Aldins with a sense of nationhood – given the similarities in general experience between this family and countless others from Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Palestine, the docu’s insistence on grounding their story in history wisely keeps the chronicle Iraq-centric. Still, the running time of two hours and 43 minutes is unquestionably self-indulgent; thankfully the clan’s charisma keeps attention from lagging too much despite frequent opportunities for trimming. Interviews are against a black background, allowing for superimpositions of words, photographs, and clips (the 3D is meant to make for more interesting and varied visual planes as accompaniment to the talking heads, yet feels superfluous). An impressive amount of archival material, nicely edited and accompanied by appropriate music tracks, acts as both family album and chronicle of a lost world.

Film Review: 'Iraqi Odyssey'

Reviewed at Abu Dhabi Film Festival (competing), Oct. 27, 2014. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — TIFF Docs; Rio de Janiero Film Festival — Panorama.) Running time: 163 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — Switzerland-Germany-UAE-Iraq) A Look Now! (in Switzerland) release of a Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, Coin Film, SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen/SRG SSR, WDR Westdeutscher Rundfunk production, in association with Sanad Fund, Furat al Jamil. (International sales: Autlook Filmsales, Vienna.) Produced by Werner Schweizer, Samir. Co-producers, Herbert Schwering, Furat al Jamil. Executive producer, Joel Jent.  

Crew: Directed, written by Samir. Camera (color/B&W, HD, 3D), Lukas Strebel, Pierre Mennel, Yuri Burak, John Kelleran, Kirill Gerra, Samir, Saaeb Hadad, Ali Alfatlawi; editors, Sophie Brunner, Ali Alfatlawi, Wathiq Al Ameri, Samir; music, Maciej Sledziecki; sound (Dolby Digital 5.1), Reto Stamm, Al Seconi, Martin Wilson, Don Feigel, Roman Platanov, Maxim Malin; sound designers, Henning Hein, Jef van Even; 3D animation, Wamidh Al Ameri; line producers, Christine Kiauk, Victoria Kaskova, Anna Sharova.  

With: Samira Jamal Aldin, Sabah Jamal Aldin, Souhair Jamal Aldin, Jamal Al Tahir, Tanya Uldin, Samir. Voices: Ellen Wagner, Tom Zahner, Ann Malcolm, Laura Zonka. (Arabic, English, German, Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • Clint Eastwood May Direct 'The Ballad

    Clint Eastwood May Direct 'The Ballad Of Richard Jewell'

    Clint Eastwood may direct “The Ballad Of Richard Jewell,” a look at a security guard whose life gets turned upside down after media reports identified him as a possible suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. The film is currently set up at Disney/Fox and could reunite Eastwood with Alan Horn, the current Disney Studios [...]

  • Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse

    Film Review: 'Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse'

    If “The Witch” had been directed by the early-career Werner Herzog of “Aguirre,” “Heart of Glass,” and “Even Dwarfs Started Small,” the result might have been something in the spirit of “Hagazussa,” Lukas Feigelfeld’s wholly arresting feature debut. Given the extended U.S. title “A Heathen’s Curse” to underline saleable supernatural elements, this enigmatic folktale-cum-horror is [...]

  • Alex Ross Perry

    Alex Ross Perry to Write and Direct Stephen King's 'Rest Stop' for Legendary

    Alex Ross Perry will write and direct Legendary’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Rest Stop.” King’s short, first published in Esquire magazine in 2003, won the national magazine award for fiction in 2004, and was later included in King’s 2008 collection, “Just After Sunset.” The movie is described as a propulsive cat-and-mouse thriller [...]

  • Hobbs & Shaw trailer

    'Hobbs & Shaw' New Trailer Touts More High-Intensity Fights

    A new “Hobbs & Shaw” trailer packs in the international action with fast cars and high-intensity fight scenes.  When the first trailer dropped in February, viewers were introduced to the genetically-enhanced villain Brixton, played by Idris Elba, as well as a newly cordial relationship between old enemies Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason [...]

  • ralph Fiennes WHITE CROW Directing BTS

    Ralph Fiennes Examines Rudolf Nureyev's Complicated Life in 'The White Crow'

    The story of “The White Crow,” Ralph Fiennes’ latest directorial effort, is as topical as anything currently sitting on the desk of a studio head. It tells of a rebellious artist grappling with his sexuality during turbulent political times rife with tensions between the United States and an agitated Russia.  But though the upcoming film, [...]

  • MoviePass card

    MoviePass Has Lost Over 90% of Its Subscribers in Less Than a Year (Report)

    MoviePass users apparently hit the exits en masse after it scaled back the number of movies users could see each month: The flailing cinema-subscription provider has seen its subscriber rolls plunge from a peak of more than 3 million to just 225,000 in under a year, according to a new report. The numbers were reported [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content