Based on the real life testimonials of some of the mental asylum patients who found themselves cut loose on the streets of bombed out Baghdad in the early days of the invasion by American led Coalition forces in 2003, writer/director Mohamed Al Daradji’s raw debut is the first feature to be shot and completed in that troubled country since the fall of Hussein.
Moving back and forth from the beginning of the Gulf War in 1991 to the reassertion of Baa’thist forces in 1998 and Baghdad in 2003, Ahlaam takes in the stories of shell shocked soldier Ali (Bashir Al Majid), corruption compromised doctor Mehdi (Mohamed Hashim) and the titular Ahlaam (Aseel Adel) — a deranged bride who witnesses her husband being dragged away by Hussein’s police on her wedding day.
Taking his lead from many of the films made by Italy’s post war neo realist filmmakers (most notably) Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and De Santis’ Bitter Rice this is an powerful portrait of suppression and man’s inhumanity to man as both the home forces and the invading ones begin to dabble in hysterical bloodletting, rape, pillage, torture and kidnap. That the film even begins to resemble a zombie film in the later sequences as the protagonists stumble through Baghdad’s deserted streets may be accidental, the fact that in it’s homeland this film has been seen as the cinematic equivalent of the beginning of the healing is irreproachable.
GFT, Glasgow, Thu 6–Sat 8 Dec; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 7–Mon 10 Dec.