“The Dark Wind”: Braving the Odds

in 15th Dhaka International Film Festival

by Manoj Barpujari

The first feature film from Iraq, or anywhere, that exposes the barbaric acts of ISIS against the ethnically Kurdish religious community of the Yazidis is The Dark Wind (Reseba, 2016). The third feature film from Kurdish filmmaker Hussein Hassan is an engaging love story set against the violent West Asian landscape. Although it is seen as a rare drama about the much-persecuted people in Iraqi Kurdistan, the evidences of genocide are effectively enveloped in a tale of a young Yazidi woman who is rescued from the clutches of the fundamentalist fanatics and sex slave traders, only to be rejected by community elders for getting pregnant in her captivity. The chain of events makes the plot a story of human resilience. Exposure of the geo-politics through love and genocide could be irresistible for a film, as having been watched in recent Balkan dramas like Juanita Wilson’s As If I Am Not There or even periodical films like Taviani brothers’ The Lark Farm. However, what set Hussein Hassan’s film apart from the rest is its convincing reliance on the minimalist concept. There is no obscurantism, but also no extra baggage of all-hell- break-loose scenes of merciless attack on a town in a later sequence in the affected zones. The scriptwriter and director, along with his co- writer Mehmet Aktas, who is also the film’s producer, shot wonderfully their low budget piece, giving it a documentary-like feeling.

It is an authentic and potentially explosive subject material, having been shot in refugee camps with the participation of the Yazidi community. The Dark Wind is factually based on the young woman’s experiences of being auctioned off into slavery by ISIS and rescued after several months. Wide shots of the Iraqi landscape and the camps which the Yazidis now call home, give credence to the mise-en- scene. The director opts for a strong portrayal of the tragedy befalling the community with subdued and realistic performance of the actors in the leading rolls. At the same time, he keeps the music flow like an undercurrent, in order to express the emotions of a desolated community, a traumatized woman and her fiancé with his quite determination.

Post-release, the film came under factual scrutiny, as evident from objections raised by a section of the community. Although the Yazidis have “forgiven” (in the film) thousands of rescued women of their tribe, not all of the community elders fell into line. But at that point, the viewers from the community claimed that they never indulged in inhuman treatment of the weaker sex. Nevertheless, Hassan’s film also shows other people, including the rescued woman, Pero’s fiancé, treating her with sympathy, respect and care. In the process it registers a bold statement against the flagrant male chauvinism, most of the Arab communities suffer from. In that way, the film wears a progressive and humanistic outlook, which is again fortified by the attitude of Pero’s fiancé Reko, who is a Yazidi soldier

Defying the prevailing mood of his father and his would-be father-in- law, Reko resolves to marry the woman who has lost her virginity as a wartime slave. He is a metaphor of not only rejection of atrocious religious fanaticism, but also a lone soldier of safeguarding his gender’s equality and justice. He represents the finer side of his own society and humanity. From the UNHCR refugee camp Reko goes through months of agony searching for Pero, and finally locates her in the Kurdish part of Syria, among a group rescued by a female unit of Iraqi Kurdistan forces. But when he brings her home, things change drastically for the worse. Pero is discovered pregnant and under the stress she loses her balance of mind. Ultimately it is the conscience in Reko that saves Pero from a possible tragic consequence.

Pero’s mother is another important character codifying conscience and compassion in one baggage. Out of desperation, the middle-aged woman goes an extra yard to try helps from Yazidi gods. The traditional mores signify both their strength and weakness, for which they are attacked and by which they gather courage. When Pero’s family visits a shrine, the script yields another side of the Yazidi belief system. Beautifully captured by the contrasting sound and images, Pero gets a shocker hearing a Muslim prayer in an adjacent mike. The deep wound suddenly resurfaces, threatening to push her back to her semi-catatonic trance, much to the chagrin of Pero’s relatives. The subtle moment establishes the difference between Islamic practice and Yazidi tradition, revealing another layer of meaning. The odds seem to be heavy, but the film drives home all this without falling for didactic art.

Many films of West Asian origin, by production and by location, have vivid descriptions of turmoil inflicted by continued social and historical unrest. The Dark Wind is inserted with enough of little details giving its narrative every broader scope to grasp what is beneath the surface. For instance, one evening before the ISIS raid, Reko and a friend joke about how all of Kurdistan could be an oil field and yet they haven’t had a pay raise in years. The fragile peace, inner conflicts and horrors of war are caught in cinematic representations that make for the semiotics of the film.

Hassan’s film shows its protagonist Pero’s ordeal originating from physical assault and then hanging at the edge of mental collapse. She is not just a war survivor, but a rape survivor, and a survivor of social taboos as well. Thus, The film examines broader consequences of wartime rape. Pero’s story is not dealt in any typical war film, not as a cliché of love either, but as a survival story, so it catapults the narrative to a survival drama. The film is also “located primarily in a contemporary context” and the “characters are less romanticized” – if we follow how Thomas Sobchack’s defined the genre. The Dark Wind thus may set parameters of defining “survival film” anew, much away from the usual patterns a Hollywood or European film fathoms.

Edited by Nachum Mochiach