The Movie Waffler Raindance Film Festival 2024 Review - IT’S BURNING | The Movie Waffler

Raindance Film Festival 2024 Review - IT’S BURNING

It's Burning review
A couple's contented life is shattered following a racist incident.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Erol Afsin

Starring: Halima Ilter, Kida Khodr Ramadan, Nicolas Garin, Emir Kadir Taskin

It's Burning poster

Whenever a filmmaker on a budget requires a movie to play on a screen within their film, nine times out of 10 they opt for George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (usually the "They're coming to get you Barbara" scene). The reason for this is more often than not down to economics: Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain and thus can be freely used. When Omar (Kida Khodr Ramadan) and Amal (Halima Ilter), the married protagonists of writer/director Erol Afsin's It's Burning, settle down to watch Romero's film I rolled my eyes at its predictability. But unlike so many filmmakers before him, Afsin's use of Romero's film actually plays into his own movie's theme.

"I didn't see that coming," Omar exclaims at the famously downbeat climax of the zombie masterpiece. Such an exclamation gestures at Omar's innocence, that at this point in life he doesn't view the world through a cynical lens, or perhaps he simply doesn't read or watch the news. It's Burning is based on a real life incident that made headlines in Germany but is relatively unknown elsewhere. The movie will likely prove more effective for non-German viewers unfamiliar with the details, and your reaction to its shocking ending won't be dissimilar to Omar's. Even the most cynical viewer will be jolted by this reminder of how awful humans can be to one another.

It's Burning review

Arab-Germans born in Germany to immigrant parents, Omar and Amal have built an enviable life for themselves. They have a young son, Ahmad (Emir Kadir Taskin), and another child on the way. They live in a spacious apartment and both hold jobs that allow for a comfortable life. But most importantly, they're deeply in love with one another. Unlike the typical world-weary movie dad, when Omar walks in the door of his home he instantly comes alive, eager to kick off his shoes and embrace his wife and child. The interactions between Omar, Amal and Ahmad are so natural you'll be forgiven for wondering if Afsin stumbled across a real life family to cast in his film.

Omar and Amal's content life is rocked when Amal takes Ahmad to his favourite spot, a set of swings in a playground near their home. The swings are occupied by a young girl and a white man, Franz (Nicolas Garin), who refuses to vacate the swing and make way for Ahmad. Initially putting Franz's attitude down to plain rudeness, Amal is shocked when Franz unleashes a xenophobic diatribe, accusing her of raising a future terrorist in Ahmad. Amal makes to leave but a couple of white women interject and call the police.

The incident, which Amal initially withholds from her husband until he learns of it through local gossip, is brought to court. Franz is ordered to pay a modest fine, and Omar and Amal think they can now move on. But when Franz lodges an appeal, Omar and Amal are dragged back to court not once, but twice, and as it seems justice may allude them, they begin to question their place in the country they always considered home.

It's Burning review

What makes It's Burning stand out from most movies that tackle racism is how deeply Afsim cares about the people at the centre of his harrowing story. Omar and Amal are fully developed characters rather than two-dimensional figures who exist simply to be victims. Within minutes of the film's opening we feel like we know who these people are, thanks largely to how Afsim focusses on the relative mundanity of their lives in an admiring rather than patronising way. The chemistry between Ramadan and Ilter as their characters snuggle on the couch at the end of the day is off the charts.

While Afsim ensures we like these people, he doesn't sugarcoat how they react to their victimisation. Had this been made by a white filmmaker I suspect they would portray Omar in an angelic, pacifist light, but Afsim dares to show him give in to the worst aspects of masculinity. His male pride wounded at not being able to protect his family, Omar heads out into the night and tries to start a fight with the first white man he comes across. Later he sits in shame as Amal plays back a video recording Ahmad secretly made of Omar and a male friend debating whether they should violently take the law into their own hands.

It's Burning review

It's in the court scenes that It's Burning slips into more familiar and less nuanced territory. In these sequences Franz and Amal are disappointingly reduced to mouthpieces for their respective belief systems, the latter delivering a speech so on-the-nose ("there's only one race, the human race") it makes Chaplin's Great Dictator monologue seem open to interpretation. Perhaps I'm mistaken about how the court system functions in Germany, but I didn't buy the judge allowing Franz to make such prolonged, hate-filled speeches given their irrelevancy to the case.

While It's Burning is focussed on a hate crime, it involuntarily makes a case against the existence of such a definition. Had Franz simply been tried for a general public disorder the case would have been cut and dry and Omar and Amal wouldn't have been put through such an ordeal. Franz verbally abused a woman and her child. That's the crime. In focussing on the racial element, Franz is given an opportunity to make his case, employing the sort of obfuscating speech beloved of right wing political figures and YouTubers. Had Franz verbally abused a white German woman the case would be straightforward and he would have no opportunity to talk his way out of it. Designating Amal a victim of a hate crime ironically makes her a victim twice over. The well-meaning white liberals who make such rules have made her just as aware of her inequality as Franz's hate-filled diatribes. Whether it's neo-Nazis or liberal do-gooders, white people just can't seem to stop othering those who don't look like us.

It's Burning
 plays at the 2024 Raindance Film Festival on June 20th.

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