'The Dark Wind': Film Review | Busan 2016

Busan International Film Festival
Diman Zandi in 'The Dark Wind.'
Appropriately harrowing and infuriating.

Kurdish director Hussein Hassan closes out the 21st Busan Film Festival with an ambitious film about the 2014 Yazidi genocide and social tradition in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Yazidi, an ethnically Kurdish religious community with roots dating back to Mesopotamia, are one of Iraq’s most culturally distinct communities. As such, they are also considered devil worshippers by ISIS, which commenced a brutal campaign to eliminate them in 2014. That attempted genocide is one of the nuggets at the heart of The Dark Wind, the expectedly depressing but current third feature from Kurdish filmmaker Hussein Hassan (Narcissus Blossom), closing this year’s Busan International Film Festival.

Surprisingly brisk and straightforward in its storytelling, The Dark Wind has a lot on its plate other than genocide. Women have been pawns in armed conflict since time immemorial, and the broader impact of wartime rape is examined, as is the never-ending conflict between tradition and progress.

Though it is the first feature film from Iraq, or anywhere, to deal with the horrific pogrom against the Yazidi, Hassan and the film have drawn criticism (and a defamation lawsuit) from Yazidis claiming the film unfairly paints them as hyperconservative and backwards. It’s easy to see their argument — the central character is made a pariah for a crime perpetrated upon her — but Hassan is also aiming at mainstream drama that highlights the gruesome persecution of an entire people. The timeliness of the subject matter and the accessibility of Hassan’s filmmaking should send The Dark Wind on a lengthy tour of the festival scene, and careful, targeted marketing could also make it viable art house material in urban markets worldwide.

The story starts in the Shingal region, with the happy engagement of Yazidi soldier Reko (director-actor Rekesh Shabaz) and Pero (Diman Zandi, luminous), a union blessed by both families. The relative tranquility of the village is shattered when ISIS troops swoop in one day, razing the town to the ground, shooting resistant men, burning symbols of culture and raising an Islamic State flag in place of the Kurdish one. The sequence is short and to the point, making it more affecting and appalling than the budget should allow for. Hassan and cinematographer Touraj Aslani keep the images uncomplicated and conventional, letting the action speak for itself.

During the firefight, Pero hides with several other women, but they are found by ISIS and promptly taken from their home and trafficked. From behind the wire fencing of the refugee camp the Yazidi are now living in, Reko spends the next several months searching for Pero every chance he gets. When he finally locates her (in Syria) and brings her home, her presence is a constant reminder of what happened in Shingal — something no one wants to recall. Matters take a turn for the worse when it’s discovered Pero is pregnant and Reko must decide if he has it in him to marry his "ruined" fiancee.

Under normal movie circumstances, a woman’s rape is fodder only for the relevant man’s character development. Though there is plenty of agony spread among Pero’s friends, family and community, Hassan and co-writer Mehmet Aktas (to their credit) make at least an attempt to illustrate Pero’s emotional struggle (granted, much of it is through ratty hair and a chalky complexion). Pero’s mother Ghazal (Maryam Boobani) is one of the few in the camp willing to try and help Pero on her own terms before breaking down and asking Yazidi gods for help. Reko’s father Hadi brings the disconnect between traditions that put family honor above all else and progress in the form of addressing rape as a terror tool into sharpest relief (and it’s offense over this retrograde thinking that is the basis for the aforementioned lawsuit). When Reko wonders out loud, “What is wrong with my family?” you really hope he’ll be the better man.

Hassan hasn’t reinvented the wheel, aesthetically or thematically, with The Dark Wind, but he has managed to insert enough little details to give it broader scope. Chatting one evening before the raid, Reko and a friend joke about how all of Kurdistan is an oil field, yet they haven’t had a pay raise in years. The fragile peace and inhuman anonymity of the UNHCR camp makes the stress bubbling beneath the surface palpable. Shabaz infuses Reko with a determined gait and thousand-yard stare that masks an inner conflict, but it’s really Zandi — in her quietest moments — that makes the horrors of war most vivid.

Production company: Mitosfilm
Cast: Rekesh Shabaz, Diman Zandi, Maryam Boobani, Adil Abdulrahman
Director: Hussein Hassan
Screenwriter: Mehmet Aktas, Hussein Hassan
Producer: Mehmet Aktas
Director of photography: Touraj Aslani
Production designer: Jalal Saed Panah
Costume designer: Gulsan Ozer
Editor: Ebrahim Saeedi
Music: Mustafa Biber
Casting: Helket Idris
Venue: Busan International Film Festival (closing night film)

Sales: Mitosfilm

In Kurdish and Arabic

No rating, 89 minutes

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