×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Journey’

A suicide bomber's mission is stalled amid the hubbub of a train station that's reopening in 2006 Baghdad.

With:
Zahraa Gandour, Ameer Ali Jabarah, Huda And Al Ameer, Hayder And Al Ameer, Ali Al Khassaf, Iamen Laeibi Mahdi, Haneen Raad Qasim, Zainab Ali Alshawi, Zahraa Emad Abdul Hussen, Kazemih Hindi Imran, Ahmed Lafta Atia Daradji, Zion Forrest Lee. (Arabic, English dialogue)

Several dramas in recent years have attempted to fathom the mindset of a suicide bomber. Iraqi-Dutch director Mohamed Al-Daradji comes up with a different, emotionally accessible approach in “The Journey” by surrounding his fictive terrorist’s mission within a panoply of train-station humanity, a gambit that at times is strongly reminiscent of vintage neorealist slices of life. Expertly juggling suspense and various narrative strands, never quite succumbing to the sentimentality it sometimes flirts with, this compact microcosmic tale should win over audiences on the festival circuit, and quite possibly beyond.

A young woman who says she’s called Sara (Zahraa Gandour) removes her headscarf before entering Baghdad Central Station in late 2006, when the facility is about to re-open after years of devastation. The place is crawling with military, police and other security. Grim-faced, she does her best to blend into the crowd while examining those unlucky travelers, peddlers and others who are unknowingly about to become part of the deadly plan she’s been persuaded to execute: “Purifying this place from the Americans” via the explosives wrapped around her midsection, which to inquisitive eyes make her look a few months’ pregnant.

The mini-dramas she spies in this quiet before the anticipated storm include the pushy salesmanship of a flower-selling tot (Huda And Al Ameer), who berates her passive, stammering shoe-shine brother (Hayder And Al Ameer). The leader of a group of strolling musicians (Ali Al Khassaf) is confronted by his erstwhile betrothed (Iamen Laeibi Mahdi), who harangues him for making her wait 22 years — even though he spent all that time in a POW camp. A teenage bride (Zahraa Emad Abdul Hussen) ponders escape from her scolding mother (Kazemih Hindi Imran) and the imminent wedding she’s clearly being forced into. A distraught-looking woman (Haneen Raad Qasim) hovers around with a large duffel, looking more suspicious than Sara herself.

Sara’s coolly judgmental observation of these scenes is intruded upon in most unwelcome fashion: Salam (Ameer Ali Jabarah), a hirsute hustler already heard barking on his cellphone and harassing passers-by, takes notice of her sitting alone. Seeing nothing more than a pretty girl, he can’t help but press his loutish attentions on her — so aggressively that in short order her secret has been detected. To shut him up, she plants an explosive device on him and takes him as her hostage. He tries to talk her out of her plans, even as they pretend to be a couple. That ruse doesn’t prevent them being interrogated by U.S. soldiers, whose bullying, profane manner (Sara understands some English) does nothing to elevate her opinion of the “infidels.”

But Sara’s determination begins to wobble when the aforementioned furtive woman impulsively presses on her and Salam the contents of her package — a baby, whose illegitimate conception has made the mother a fugitive from her own family. His tender side emerging, Salam contends the infant is an argument for life and mercy; Sara isn’t so sure.

Packing a lot into a short narrative time span without seeming overstuffed, “The Journey” (which Al-Daradji co-wrote with Isabelle Stead) comes close to mawkish contrivance now and then but always stops short. There’s no finger-wagging preachiness here, and the fundamentalist ideology that has led Sara to her suicidal mission is only hinted at. The result, given the hot-button subject matter, is surprisingly old-fashioned, in a good way: Reminiscent not just of Italian neorealism but classic plays by the likes of Saroyan and Wilder, in which small interactions between characters affirm the value of life with all its sorrows and bittersweet joys. The ambiguous ending may strike some as too much of a gimmick (as well as a very familiar one), but it works well enough.

Strong performances all around are highlighted by Gandour as a central figure whose backstory remains cloudy, but whose steely fervor is never in doubt. For much of the running time, her eyes are so hollowed-out it’s as if Sara has already checked herself into the afterlife she anticipates as her reward for this terrorist act. The tech and design contributors help make the station and its surroundings come alive, teeming with activity that Duraid Al-Munajim’s nimble camerawork captures in consistently stimulating but never gratuitously showy terms.

Film Review: 'The Journey'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 12, 2017. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: (Iraq-U.K.-France-Qatar-Netherlands) A Human Film production in association with Iraqi Independent Film Centre and Lionceau Film, in co-production with Doha Film Institute. (International sales: Picture Tree Intl., Berlin.) Producers: Isabelle Stead, Mohamed Al-Daradji. Co-producer: Helene Cases.

Crew: Director: Mohamed Al-Daradji. Screenplay: Al-Daradji, Isabelle Stead. Camera (color, HD): Duraid Al-Munajim. Editors: Herve de Luz, Pascale Chavance, Al-Daradji. Music: Mike Kourtzer, Fabian Kourtzer.

With: Zahraa Gandour, Ameer Ali Jabarah, Huda And Al Ameer, Hayder And Al Ameer, Ali Al Khassaf, Iamen Laeibi Mahdi, Haneen Raad Qasim, Zainab Ali Alshawi, Zahraa Emad Abdul Hussen, Kazemih Hindi Imran, Ahmed Lafta Atia Daradji, Zion Forrest Lee. (Arabic, English dialogue)

More Film

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content