Crossing the Dust

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

Narin Film

PALM SPRINGS -- On the day of the video bite seen round the world, when Saddam Hussein's statue is toppled, two Kurdish soldiers find themselves carting around a lost boy in "Crossing the Dust." Without polemics or self-conscious flights of lyricism, writer-director Shawkat Amin Korki's first feature has a spare simplicity that effectively conveys the absurdity and chaos of war. "Dust" screened in the World Cinema Now section of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

After a bit of celebratory dancing around the TV with their fellow resistance fighters, two members of the Peshmerga set out from a dusty village in Iraqi Kurdistan, their pickup filled with canisters of food for another detachment. But their mission is soon complicated by the appearance in the road of a bawling, barefoot 5-year-old. The driver, Azad (Hossein Hasan), whose brother has been missing since he was a kid, feels the tug of responsibility.

Going door to door in the nearby village, Azad finds that no one understands Kurdish or recognizes the child. Over the objections of his older comrade, Rashid (Adil Abdolrahman), he takes the boy to American troops -- who politely refuse him -- feeds him and tries to keep him entertained. Rashid can speak Arabic and grudgingly gets basic information from the kid he dubs "Blacky." The moniker turns out to be preferable to the boy's real name, Saddam. During his reign, the Iraqi dictator offered financial rewards to families who named children after him. Now, in the first throes of regime collapse, the name is a curse -- as the boy's parents, not far behind and calling for him amid the ruin, soon discover.

The boy between them literally and figuratively, the two men find their route derailed at every turn -- by looters, car thieves and a military ambush. Amin Korki is concerned not with political argument but with ground-level political reality. The storytelling isn't always smooth, and the English subtitles are badly in need of a polish. But at its strongest -- as when Azad comes upon a mass grave, where people sift through the rubble for telltale traces of their loved ones -- "Dust" has a stark, direct power.
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