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Not even the still-potent magic of its titular cinematic icon can infuse Jano Rosebiani’s film with its intended impact. One of two films by the Kurdish-American director-screenwriter opening simultaneously at New York City’s Quad Cinema, Chaplin of the Mountains bursts with good intentions while suffering from tonal inconsistency and lack of technical expertise.
The film apparently was fused together from two storylines originally intended for separate films, and its straining seams are very much on display. The first concerns a quixotic quest undertaken by two NYU film school graduates, David (Zack Gold) and Alan (Bennet Viso), to project the silent films of Charlie Chaplin in the remote villages of the Kurdish countryside. The second involves Naze (Estelle Bajou), a young Frenchwoman of Kurdish ancestry who has traveled to the region to search for the village from which her mother was kidnapped and sold into slavery many years earlier.
Meeting the two young men at a small inn, Naze impulsively abandons her plans to return to France after finding no evidence of the missing village and joins them on their elaborate road trip in the company of a local guide (Kurdo Galali) and a female journalist (Tales Farzan) who seems to think she’s found a big story.
The trek is not without pitfalls. Although many of the villagers, especially the children, welcome the comedic entertainment, the screenings frequently are interrupted by, among other things, pious elders who object to them being projected on sacred buildings.
After hearing Naze’s story of her mother who was rescued from an Egyptian brothel by her French father, the men decide to help her find the village, which leads them to a remote area of the war-torn region that is dubbed the Kurdish “Bermuda Triangle.” This leads to comic complications, including being led through a landmine-strewn region by a one-legged guide who lost his limb on a previous excursion — they wonder if he’s the best choice for the assignment — and an encounter with an automatic weapon-toting woman who chastises them with the film’s single funniest and most inadvertently resonant line: “You must be bored with your lives.”
Viewers similarly will be bored by the lifeless proceedings, which only briefly spark to life in the moving climactic scene depicting Naze’s reunion with her traumatized grandfather (Enwer Shakhani).
Although the filmmaker is to be commended for his mission of providing his homeland with much-needed cinematic exposure, Chaplin of the Mountains is too schematic and ineffectually realized to have much of an impact. Like the faded vintage prints of the Chaplin films frequently seen projected, it provides only a hint of the cinematic magic to which it aspires.
Opens Feb. 21 (Evini Films)
Cast: Estelle Bajou, Zack Gold, Benner Visso, Kurdo Galali, Taies Farzan, Enwer Shekhani
Director-screenwriter-producer-editor: Jano Rosebiani
Director of photography: Jonas Sacks
Composers: Ciwan Haco, Agire Jiyan, Rodja, Mehmet Atli, Semir Ali
Not rated, 86 min.
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