Until ISIS invaded Iraqi Kurdistan, either enslaving or massacring the Yazidi population, few outside the region were even aware of this much-persecuted people. Hussein Hassan’s “The Dark Wind” is the rare drama made about the community, focusing on a woman’s difficult re-entry after being abducted by the fundamentalist fanatics. Occasionally clumsy in treatment and editing, “The Dark Wind” builds to a certain power, and its topicality will likely interest festival programmers and showcases. Misplaced controversy has swarmed around the film ever since protests during the premiere at the Duhok Film Festival in September, but Dubai’s top prize will now kick-start its chances of international exposure.
The film’s acrimonious reception in Duhok, close to the Yazidi holy town of Lalesh, came from a belief that it portrayed the community in a bad light: After being raped by her ISIS abductor, the female lead is spurned by Yazidi elders for no longer being pure. It’s worth questioning whether Yazidi women were among those objecting to the film’s depiction of rejection, or if the protesters were primarily men. After all, the benighted idea that women lose their “value” after being violated is hardly unique to one religion or people. The truth is that “Dark Wind” is a sympathetic portrait of a devastated people, and the audience’s emotional investment is not just directed toward the raped woman but to her steadfast, heroic fiancé as well, who represents the finer side of his society.
Just after Reko (Rekesh Shahbaz) and Pero (Diman Zandi) become engaged, ISIS overruns their village and Pero is among a group of women sold into slavery. Reko, a Peshmerga fighter, desperately searches for his beloved, finally discovering her in the Kurdish part of Syria among a group rescued by a female Peshmerga unit. When found, Pero is in a semi-catatonic state, deeply traumatized from her captivity. Reko brings her back to the refugee camp where their families now live, and she’s welcomed with pained joy by her mother Xezal (Meryem Boobani). Others are less hospitable, including her father Reşo (Adil Abdulrahman) and Reko’s father Hadi (Abdullah Tarhan), who no longer wants his son marrying a woman who’s not a virgin.
The script contains no fat at all, barreling from one clear-cut scene to another in a model of straightforward storytelling. Does the film portray certain members of the community as backward? Yes, but it also shows others treating Pero with sympathy and respect. However, one wonders whether a line saying Yazidi elders had “forgiven” women raped by ISIS is a poor translation, as obviously the term “forgiveness” is fraught with major problems. Another important issue to consider is that there are no other fiction features about the Yazidis, a situation that makes impossible demands on “The Dark Wind” to accurately represent an entire society — a scrutiny almost no film could withstand.
Hassan, in his third feature, keeps the love story between Reko and Pero at the film’s heart while balancing it with scenes of ISIS attacking, as well as Peshmerga resistance (the latter edited in an often ungainly way). Early shots are nicely composed but lit in an overly theatrical manner, giving way to a greater feel for realism that really comes together towards the end, when Hassan musters a well-calibrated emotional tug. At one point a character mentions that ISIS attempted the 73rd genocide of the resilient Yazidis; clearly their stories deserve further cinema exposure, but until then, “The Dark Wind” is a respectable beginning.