Speech is Silver, Silence is Gold

in 8th Duhok International Film Festival

by Axel Timo Purr

In an inherently strong year for the Kurdish section of the 8th Duhok International Film Festival, one film in particular stands out as poetic as it is political.

One can only wish that, for the sake of the Iraqi-Kurdistan autonomous zone, the ways for state support of film discussed on a panel in Duhok’s convention center during the film festival will actually be realized. For what was shown in this year’s festival in surprisingly diverse and breathtaking quality in the section “Kurdish Feature Film” indicates what amazing potential this cultural area alone has uncovered without major funding, as well as what could still be possible.

For not only films like the Kurdish rendition of Taxi Driver (1976), Dirty Lands, with a great Hallo Ramshty in the leading role, the so different refugee dramas The Little Refugee (Aylan, Son of the Ocean) and Landless (Be Nishtiman) with their identity-building and national trauma-coping aspirations, but also a narrative pearl like Ferit Karahan’s Brother’s Keeper (Okul Tirasi) with its visual power, content-related nihilism and subtle humor, which unfolds as a similarly disturbing children’s home microcosm as Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi’s great youth drama The Tribe (Plemya) in 2014. But stylistic tightrope walks were also on display. Such as the political horror grotesque Zalava (with a mesmerizing Navid Pourfaraj in the main role) and the semi-documentary fatherland quest Sidik and the Panther, which expands the Kurdish space of reference  to not only include past and present, but also the future, without shying away from also gesturing towards romantic ideals and images such as those of Caspar David Friedrich, and integrating them into the Kurdish identity discourse.

This unusual complexity is also found in what is probably the strongest film in the section, the FIPRESCI award-winning The Dance of Ali and Zin (Govenda Ali û Dayka Zin) by Mehmet Ali Konar. Made on a budget of $20,000, Konars second film tells the story of a Kurdish family in Turkey. After one of her sons dies in Turkish custody, the mother decides, against the will of her first-born son and the rest of the family, to give her younger son at least one more wedding, so as not to let his life fade away “unfinished.”

The conflict not only within the family, but also with the Turkish authorities is portrayed by the outstanding ensemble of Suat Usta, Korkmaz Arslan, Maryam Boubani, and Diman Zandi in impressive dialogues, which are always wordless but with intense looks and gestures, and is further intensified by a filigree sound design (Toke Borson Odin, Xebat Asmi) and impressive cinematography (Deniz Enyüksek), opening up associations not only with common proverbs and indigenous idiosyncrasies, but also with insights such as those from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” (1921): “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.“

Konar repeatedly takes enough time to deepen his characters, with everyday rituals such as shopping in the provincial capital, car rides across the countryside, eating together and harvesting honey, almost incidentally revealing and thus expanding more and more a network of relationships and hierarchies that is still inscrutable at the beginning.

In doing so, Konar not only has the courage to use poetic means to explain family doings, for example as a jacket blowing in the wind during the wedding music or the final shot of the setting sun. Furthermore, Konar succeeds in presenting the deep-seated conflicts and problems of the Turkish-Kurdish relations through a story told in a small and private way, on the micro level of society – as archaic, as poetic, as well as impressively realistic and not least, deeply political.  

However, since Konar never places this conflict entirely at the center of the narrative, he tells a universal, almost biblical story about lost love, lost family ties, and a lost homeland, which should find a grateful resonance especially in our present, which is no less marked by similar disturbing worldwide migration processes.

Axel Timo Purr
Edited by Savina Petkova