The Movie Waffler New Release Review - OUR RIVER…OUR SKY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - OUR RIVER…OUR SKY

New Release Review - OUR RIVER…OUR SKY
The lives of several Iraqi citizens in the week of Saddam Hussain's death.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Maysoon Pachachi

Starring: Basim Hajar, Meriam Abbas, Ali El Kareem, Mahmoud Abo Al Abbas, Zaydun Khalaf, Amed Hashimi, Labwa Arab, Badia Obaid

Our River...Our Sky poster

That thing François Truffaut apparently said contradicting the possibility of an anti-war film, that "every film about war ends up being pro-war"; there’s something in it, I reckon. The mechanics of battle crucially suit the spectacular nature of cinema, an art form whose sobriquet ("the movies") is predicated upon action and dynamic motion. Allowing the musical, how better to present dramatic activity than the hyperbolic kinetics of fighting, hulking machinery and the guns guns guns inherent to war? Nonetheless, I wonder if Truffaut in le paradis du cinema wouldn't be thrilled by the rejoinder of Maysoon Pachachi's (with co-writing shared by Irada Al-Jubori) intensely accomplished debut Our River...Our Sky - a film that is explicitly about war, and which successfully portrays the on-going effects of combat in a way that is heartbreakingly and undeniably anti-war.

Our River...Our Sky review

Set in the last week of 2006 in the run up to Saddam Hussain's death, Our River...Our Sky depicts several denizens of Baghdad as they cope with the consistent outbursts of sectarian violence which characterise the city. And "cope" rather than "struggle" is the operative verb here, as what is so powerful and paradigm shifting about Pachachi's film is how accepting its characters are of the death and destruction which both marks their city and the potentially fatal uncertainty of their existence.

In an ensemble cast, we follow the intersecting stories of several different citizens. Our axis is Sara (Darina Al Joundi), an author whose energies are now compelled towards, pointlessly, recording upon a thread strewn map the various explosions and killings which occur in the city. Sara lives with her daughter Reema, and in turn, we meet neighbours Sabiha, who is a Christian, along with Kamal (a former prisoner-of-war) with his pregnant wife Mona and her mother Nermeen whose son was "disappeared." There is Dijla, a manic depressive, and young Tamara, a college student. Our River...Our Sky does afford focus to men and boys - Yahya, who is compromised in his job, Haider who is inevitably drawn into a gang and his dad Abu who just as inevitably turns to drink - but Pachachi's partiality lies with the women of Baghdad. After all, it is their bodies which are pulled from the Tigris, who are accosted by male strangers enquiring about the whereabouts of their headscarves, and who are deemed fallen women for transgressing whatever sketchy parameter a man with a knife or a gun or simply a stronger pair of hands may decide to gravely enforce.

Our River...Our Sky review

When Sabiha is threatened for her faith by some sectarian thugs, Sara does begin to consider flight, as do other characters throughout the film. But Pachachi implies that the Gordian knot is not so easily sliced: where does one go, how does one get out, what do you leave behind? A father asks his daughter how she "can dance" with "people dying every day?" In Our River...Our Sky this simple motion is an act of self-preservation, of defiance of circumstances which are inescapable. Chillingly, Reema and Tamara spot a dead man on the way to college, just another body lying in the gutter, flies already swirling about him. The girls are unmoved and simply carry on, indicative of a generation where such awful sights have become commonplace.

Our River...Our Sky review

Throughout the film, Pachachi's manipulation of the various moving parts of her narrative - the interweaving plots, the cinéma verité staging, the perpetual sense of threat - is masterful. Further consolidating the multifaceted implications of Our River...Our Sky and its humanist ideology is Al Joundi's megawatt smile: a searing gesture of human strength in the most dire and dark of situations.

Our River...Our Sky is in UK cinemas from October 20th.

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