Jani Gal

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

Suli Film

PALM SPRINGS -- Based on a novel by Ebrahim Ahmad, the 1940s-set "Jani Gal" chronicles Kurdistan's struggle for independence through one man's melodrama.

With this uneven tale, Iran-born director Jamil Rostami -- whose "Requiem of Snow" was the first Iraq film submitted for Academy Award consideration -- again represents Iraq in the foreign-language competition. The loosely structured tale of a young man's false imprisonment and subsequent search for his family is at its strongest and most eloquent when Rostami pulls back from the personal story to paint a larger canvas. "Jani Gal" screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

As his wife enters a difficult labor, Juamer (Nezar Selami), an Iraqi Kurdish resident of Sulaymaniah, heads out to find the midwife and gets caught up in a demonstration against the government and the occupying foreign powers. The perfectly civilized rally turns into a massacre when government troops gun down the crowd. Pegged as a leader of the "bloody" demonstration, the captured Juamer is tortured, interrogated and railroaded into a 10-year sentence. Upon his release, he returns to his village and sets out to find his wife and the son he has never met -- no simple matter, it turns out.

Juamer is welcomed by friends and relatives as a hero. Distrust reigns, public gatherings are forbidden, and those who haven't been arrested are joining or aiding the Peshmerga, the Kurdish independent movement's armed resistance. To reach the town where his family has moved, he will have to make a brief but treacherous journey beneath falling bombs.

The time-jumping tale interweaves harrowing scenes of Juamer's imprisonment -- he emerges from a pile of dead and writhing bodies -- with happier times, when he courted Kaleh (Rinas Voria) at his mother's home, persimmons floating in the courtyard pool.

During his post-prison search and the flashbacks, Rostami tends to handle dialogue sequences with a monotonous cross-cutting of close-ups. The formality of the performances might be intended to reflect the midcentury setting but undermines the impact of the narrative.

In sequences not driven by dialogue, however, like a firing squad triptych and the powerful final scenes, Rostami's visual poetry speaks volumes about injustice and human resilience.
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