my table cell



Foreign Language Films Compete
for Golden Globe

After careful examination, 53 motion pictures have been approved for Golden Globe consideration in the Foreign Language category. In order to qualify for foreign language consideration,... More...

Kurdish Travels with a Tramp

Jeannette Catsoulis
New York Times

A charmingly shaggy road trip with clear political undertones, “Chaplin of the Mountains” winds its way across the Iraqi Kurdistan region, using silent movies to give voice to the troubles of a war-battered people... More...

The Unrepented Marxist
Kurdish and Turkish Films of Note
Louis Proyect -Film Critic, New York

Over the past several days I’ve looked at two Kurdish and two Turkish narrative films that would be of particular interest to my readers.... More...

'Chaplin of the Mountains' a Refreshing Journey
Farran Smith Nehme
New York Post

Kurdish director Jano Rosebiani’s movie is about two NYU film students (Zack Gold and Bennett Viso) screening Charlie Chaplin movies for the peasants in the mountains of his native country... More...

One Candle, Two Candles: Film Review
Frank Scheck
Hollywood Reporter

A literal ball-buster is but one of the many colorful characters on display in One Candle, Two Candles…, a Kurdistan-set film that attempts to find humor in a story about an innocent young woman... More... 

Kurdish-American Filmmaker Brings Kurdistan to Hollywood

Joshua Thaisen

LOS ANGELES - The premier of two Kurdish films in Hollywood this week may help bridge the cultural divide between Kurdistan and the West. Kurdish-American filmmaker... More... 

The Year in Film
Louis Proyect
Counter Punch

I deliberately refrained from attaching the word “best” to the films listed below out of consideration that my personal taste weighed heavily. While I would have no problem defending the picks based on artistic merit... More...

Kurdish Diasporic Cinema: 'Chaplin of the Mountains' & 'One Candle, Two Candles'
Amir Sherifi & Ali Ashouri
The Kurdistan Tribune

Kurdish diasporic cinema, traceable to the 1980s and 1990s, is vividly invoked in the work of Jano Rosebiani, the Kurdish American film maker... More...

Kurdistan Comes to NYC's Quad Cinema
James Van Naanen
Trust Movies, New York

According to Wikipedia, contemporary use of the word "Kurdistan" (of which there is no official "country," though the term can mean a particular region of Iraq) refers to large parts of eastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan)... More...




Jiyan Means Life in Kurdish; In English, Death Will Do

Kani Xulam
The American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN)
June 30, 2003

DAVIDI don‚t know if it ever happens to you, but it happens to me often, I am either listening to someone on the television or in a lecture hall -- granted that the person has piqued and kept my interest -- and then bingo, the person utters the name of an interesting book or movie, I rush to my pen and paper and jot down the information, and place it somewhere visible, like the corner of my yearly calendar by my desk in my office, till I get hold of the thing itself, to see for myself, if what I heard dovetails with what I read in the book or see in the film. It usually does. I read the book, An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser this way and I am very grateful for the tip. Jiyan is a Kurdish film by Jano Rosebiani, stop reading this right now, reach out to your pen, post it paper, write it out, J-I-Y-A-N, and place it somewhere visible in your office or study till you either see it in a movie theater or rent it out from a video outlet.

DAVIDYou will be glad you did, I would not joke with you in a public forum like this one otherwise, and after seeing it, you will thank me for it, but the person you should thank and that goes for all the children of Kurdistan and their friends, past, present and the future, is the struggling Kurdish artist who first worked as an usher in a movie theatre some 26 years ago, and after watching not thousands but tens of thousands of films, moved his Kurdish camera to produce a Kurdish film that at first sight dazzles you with its beauty and horror, joy and sorrow, soaring human spirit and depravity of the kind that makes you wonder if humans deserve to live on this earth, and all of it, in a span of 94 minutes; in short, all your senses, good and bad, are treated to a veritable feast with the culmination of, you guessed it, hope triumphing over despair, life blooming in moonscape, and Jiyan, the ten year old Kurdish girl whose last and parting shot in the film is her face with rivulets of tears flowing from her eyes, in slow motion, outlasting her nemesis Saddam Hussein, and slowly gravitating towards a future, very fragile for her, of hope, of light and of beauty. But you are never too far from the day, in her words, when „chemical rain‰ poured on her -- disfigured her -- and her loved ones -- killed many -- while the „civilized‰ world was in a state of stupor, oblivious to the danger that blighted her kind and her generation, because the dead were Kurds and the murderer was Saddam Hussein, the first did not matter, the second made the indifference of those who could have spoken on this crime against humanity look glorious by comparison, for, at least, they did not harm their citizens.

I would be lying to you if I said that the movie did not disturb me. The temperature of my anger reached a crisis point. My tears flowed when I sensed that Jiyan was about to shed hers, they started flowing again every time I heard -- I could not keep my eyes open -- the Kurdish flutist, a Kurdish mullah, the equivalent of a priest in the Christian faith, play for God, or was it for the sun, moon and the stars, I don‚t know, on a rooftop in all weather, for the loss of his eight children and wife. I don‚t know why, but I thought of Arundhati Roy -- the lighting rod of the antiwar movement, I proudly marched along her likes, by the way, with my quaint sign, „Down With Saddam Hussein; No War, prompting one protester to ask me if I was for the war or against it, and leaving my conversation with this deluded activist aside for a moment, and getting back to Ms. Roy again, who came to embody the feelings of, by her counts, ten million people who marched, worldwide, against the recent war -- and wished to God, she were watching it with me. Referring to George Bush, she had often said, „he is more dangerous than Saddam Hussein. If she had seen the film, I was convinced now, knowing that the film would cure her of her ignorance, about the darling of the deluded, Saddam Hussein, not that I was equating the president of the United States to the Mother Theresa of Calcutta, she would go down on her knees, I imagined, true scholars eat their words with grace, and apologize to Jiyan and her blighted generation for the misuse of her pulpit, she is on C-SPAN all the time, to lash out with her acidic tongue against two wrong doers, one, Saddam Hussein, in her diction, a man as dangerous as Al Capone, who in his „best selling‰, ghost written, novels equates all Kurds to adulterous, treacherous, and fickle creatures; and the other, George Bush, treated as a modern day Adolph Hitler, who used the Kurds, to be sure, as a prop for the war, but had a better appreciation of the man who had used chemical weapons once and could do so again, remember Hitler who had reminded his generals how the Turks got away with the Armenian genocide, unless he was stopped in his tracks.

But it looks like there is a feeling of remorse gripping both the Great Britain as well as the United States, not because war is organized crime let loose and as much as possible should be avoided, and if undertaken, the United Nations should be the institution to invoke it -- that boneless wonder that did not even acknowledge the Kurdish dead when they were gassed in broad daylight -- but because the weapons of mass destruction have, get your eyes ready for this, not been found. I have to assume that these peaceniks and the inadvertent supporters of Saddam Hussein have never heard of the Kurds and their 281 villages, towns, and cities which were indiscriminately gassed not just in one day, between the sunrise and sunset, but in a span of eighteen months, in the course of an operation called al Anfal, which for those of you who are versed in Islam, the name means, the spoils, and comes from a chapter heading in Quran. Imagine if you will, Ariel Sharon using chemical weapons on a Palestinian settlement, and christening his diabolical plan with an Orwellian name, like, say, „tikkun! To paraphrase Ms. Roy, I can almost hear the footsteps of ten million peace activists marching in the streets of major cities all over the world, all shouting in unison, „Never Again! It would be a sight out of this world, signifying the hypocrisy of our generation of peace activists, who are quick to condemn the wrongs of Israelis and Americans, but hardly can be bothered, when the unspeakable is committed in the name of Islam and by the likes of people like Saddam Hussein.


Movie looks at life in Halabja after chemical attack

Kurdish film-maker illustrates human capacity for cruelty and destruction

Ali Jaafar
The Daily Star, London
June 21, 2003

LONDON: There are certain names which are forever etched in our conscience, bearing testament to our capacity for evil and destruction. Auchwitz, Hiroshima, Sabra and Chatila - all names that instantly prompt images of death, loss and suffering to surface. Joining this tragic list is the Kurdish town of Halabja in northern Iraq.

Ever since now-deposed dictator Saddam Hussein authorized the use of chemical weapons in 1988, Halabja has served as yet another reminder of mankind’s ability to inflict unimaginable cruelty on his fellow man. In a matter of minutes an estimated 5,000 Kurds were killed and countless thousands maimed or deformed following the gas attacks.

Jiyan, a new film by Kurdish director Jano Rosebiani, looks at the aftermath of the attacks and its consequences on the Kurdish inhabitants of Halabja. It is showing in New York as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival from June 13-26.

Filmed on location in Irbil in 2001, Jiyan, which means life in Kurdish, tells the story of Diyari, a Kurdish American who returns to Halabja five years after the infamous gas attacks to build an orphanage. While there, he meets Jiyan, 10, an orphan and survivor of the chemical attack. As the film progresses, the two grow closer, Diyari acting as surrogate friend, brother and father figure to the girl. During the course of his stay, he comes across a disparate group of survivors. They include a former cleric who, having lost his wife and eight children, spends his time perched on a rooftop playing his flute, as well as an elderly woman, blinded by the chemicals, spending her sleepless nights feeling the photos of her dead family.

The film itself uses a variety of cinematic styles, shifting from still images of corpses, to black and white cinema-verite style flashbacks of the attack, to vividly etched frescos of Halabja’s bleakly beautiful landscape.

When asked which film-makers had most influenced him, Rosebiani replied that his biggest inspiration came from the Italian New Realist cinema, Iranian cinema of the 90s and Chinese cinema of the late 80s-90s.

Given the grim subject matter, the film certainly has its share of harrowing moments. As one of the characters remarks, “Those who died were lucky. Those who survived were between life and death.”

This sense of a waking death pervades throughout the film. The aftershock of the attacks are constantly at the fore, as we encounter more crippled, maimed and disfigured casualties.

At one point a sandstorm sends everyone running indoors. Clouds of desert dust swirl menacingly, each contaminated grain posing the threat of spreading tuberculosis and cancer. The characters are haunted, attacked even by the wind and the nature of their land.
Yet, for all the inevitable despair , there are many moments of hope and tenderness in the film. Jiyan herself, though forever scarred on the right side of her face, is a luminous presence, her smile momentarily camouflaging her injury. We first encounter her on a swing, the director framing her as a solitary, silent figure in the midst of the sweeping landscape. However, as the film progresses, and her friendship with Diyari blossoms, she too grows as a character.

Her imagination allows the director to step back from reality and set the viewer adrift in a sea of fantasy. One highlight comes after Jiyan sees a picture of some roses in one of Diyari’s roses. She recounts how her aunt would tell her stories about the rose garden they used to have with the same fascination one would expect of fairytales filled with unicorns and fire-breathing dragons, before the director cuts to her dream of being smothered in rose petals, the sudden shock of red filling the screen with a vital, fertile colour, no longer the dull crimson of blood.

It is in these every day depictions of how these people’s lives have been inalterably affected that the film is at is most poignant. At a later point Jiyan gives the picture of the roses to the blind old lady to feel, replacing the portraits of her dead family with an image of growth.

While working on the screenplay, Rosebiani met with survivors of the attacks, using their tales to structure the film. It proved an exhausting time for the director. “It was very emotional. Many of the people in the film actually come from Halabja and it shows in their performance. After we finished shooting the scenes, a lot of the time people behind the camera would be crying. I think this feeling travels into the audience.”

The director does not shy away from the politics of the area, either. A constant pattern in the film is character after character wishing death upon Saddam Hussein.

The Americans are not spared either. Asked when his family decided to immigrate to America, Diyari’s reply is typically direct: “In 1975, when Kissinger screwed up our revolution.”

Rosebiani, himself just back from a post-Saddam Iraq for the first time, expresses great hope for the future. “Even though it won’t be easy and people are getting impatient for normal life to resume, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because the people love each other. Whether from Basra, Baghdad or the north, I traveled through Iraq and I saw that the people really do love each other.”

As the winds of change sweep through Iraq, Jiyan offers hope that they can blow away the contaminated, blood stained grains of sand and replace them with soil ready to bloom bountiful rose gardens as would befit the smile of a new country.

If you wish to make an online comment regarding this article kindly visit The Daily Star web site:


The walking wounded

JUNE 13, 2003

The Kurdish-American benefactor of "Jiyan" arrives in northern Iraq to build a new orphanage, where Saddam's heinous poison gas attack has become Kurds' defining moment, but it's the going forward part that will determine their future.

Kurdish-American director Jano Rosebiani has the honor of making the first important feature to emerge from the Kurdish Regional Government area in northern Iraq. At least that's what it was called until a few weeks ago. The conditions depicted in "Jiyan" ("Life") may prove to be idyllic.

The action takes place in Halabja about five years after of Saddam's infamous poison gas attack in 1988. Diyari (Kurdo Galali) has come from his new homeland, America, with enough cash to put up a badly needed new orphanage. As construction proceeds, he gradually becomes acquainted with the tragic individual stories of the survivors. Prime among these is orphan girl Jiyan (Pisheng Berzinji), whose one-side-beautiful one-side-disfigured face epitomizes the people's plight.

Little by little, Diyari succeeds in turning her fixed stare into natural friendliness. Lively young cousin Sherko (Choman Hawrami) is primed to marry her, even though they are hardly of age.

Although he seems to fit right into life in this impoverished town, Diyari hardly can absorb the catastrophe that hit there. Every time he imagines the gas attack, he breaks out into a sweat. Nor can he, coming from America, readily accept the level of injury from land mines and disease that he encounters when he arrives. Many glasses of tea later, the orphanage is ready and Diyari says his goodbyes, plunging Jiyan back into quiet despair. The audience will readily sympathize, because Rosebiani manages to show enough other people of Halabja with distinct personalities to make the film memorable.

  "Jiyan" seems to be several films at once. The main story just outlined gets a reverently sentimental distancing treatment while Diyari's more formal contacts with local officialdom feel more like a staged documentary with jerky script as co-conspirator. The best scenes involve the romances and infatuations of a trio of young ladies living across from Diyari, who is embarrassed but flattered by their attention. For its lack of artifice, emphasis on children and liberal use of non-actors, the film will strike many as similar to Iranian efforts or even Turkish imagery. Most important — and landscape aside — it doesn't look like classic Arabic films, and this is most likely intentional.

  Rosebiani makes his strongest points when emphasizing the Kurds' pre-Islamic cultural roots. Zoroastrian traditions such as celebrating New Year's on the first day of spring as in neighboring Iran and love of music easily trump the later Wahabbi-influenced thinking. One character in the film voices these conflicts, specifically criticizing a lonely widower who passes his life on a low rooftop playing a ney flute. A neighborhood woman promptly shoos him away as if to demonstrate that his conservative thinking could take root only with the greatest difficulty. It's no accident that among Diyari's portable library is Nietzche's "Zarathustra" (Zoroaster) with its description of Ahura Mazda, precursor to Jewish, Christian and Muslim concepts of one God. If Rosebiani continues clarifying Kurdish culture in the remaining components of a proposed trilogy, he will accomplish much more than one more time evoking compassion for Kurdish victimhood.

To post a comment regarding Jiyan or this article visit its original web site



Tim Evans
Sky Movies

This all-too-rare Kurdish film centers on the emotional and physical fallout of Saddam Hussein's bombing of the town of Halabja.
Stars: Kurdo Galali, Choman Hawrami, Pisheng Berzinji, Derya Qadir, Enwer Shexani

You probably won't have any cause to recall March 16, 1988 - there were no acres of newsprint, no endless TV footage or seismic political shocks.

Yet on that day Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein unleashed a chemical and biological air strike on Halabja, a Kurdish city of 70,000 people.

Up to 5,000 suffered an appalling death from mustard, nerve and cyanide gas poisoning - that's almost double the death toll of the September 11 attack.

Despite the scale of the slaughter, international reaction was muted, with the UN Security Council even failing to single out Iraq as the culprit.

Kurdish-American director Rosebiani seeks to put the spotlight back on the fate of the victims in this unashamed polemic.

He uses Americanized Kurd Diyari (Galali) - a survivor of an earlier atrocity - to act as storyteller, heading to Halabja five years on to build an orphanage.

The first person he encounters on the dusty road into the city is Jiyan (Berzinji), an acid-scarred victim of the chemical attack whose name means Life.

Rather than a hopeless ruin, Diyari encounters colorfully resilient people, keen to rally round his effort to house the local orphans.
Despite the horrors, they are not without humor: when he asks directions to the hospital, a wizened old codger replies, "Keep going until you see a big crowd."

However, the grim legacies of the atrocity are everywhere - blind, deformed and scarred locals are used as extras.

While there are calls to "break Saddam's neck 100 times", the soft-hearted Diyari urges progress rather than blind revenge.

If anything, he's the weak link in the film, so good to be true you rather wish he would cop off with the smitten Tavga across the road.
To a Western audience used to gorging on cheap Hollywood sentiment and computer-enhanced violence, the sentiments may appear naïve. But in the current climate there has never been a better time to give them a bit of thought.



A Kurdish-American man returns to the town of Halabja to build an orphanage. An accomplished and moving feature from writer-director Jano Rosebiani.

On March 16 1988, 5,000 Kurdish people were killed and thousands more maimed when the town of Halabja was subject to a biological and chemical weapons attack by Saddam Hussein's air force. Jiyan (Life) begins five years after this atrocity, with Diyarî (Galalî) arriving in the traumatized community, where the polluted air still carries diseases and where his friend Salar (Shêxanî) says that those who survived the bombings are between "life and death". Amongst those whom Diyari befriends are two orphaned children: Shêrko (Hawramî), a boy who dreams of becoming a pilot in order to bomb Saddam, and the seven-year-old Jiyan (Berzincî), a girl with a badly scarred face.

Jiyan could equally have been titled And Life Goes On, for as with that 1991 drama from Iranian maestro Abbas Kiarostami, it demonstrates how, in the face of appalling hardship, people somehow keep going: here they gather at a local café, fall in love - one suitor whispers poetry over a wall to his beloved - dance to music, and get married.

Writer-director Jano Rosebiani and cinematographer Al Janabi show a good eye for both the surrounding landscape and the telling detail, whether it's the barefooted workmen on crutches, a blind woman 'feeling' the photographs of her relatives, or empty bomb shells deployed as flower-pots.

Nor does the director ignore the shameful political evasiveness of the West towards the Kurds. A character blames Henry Kissinger for the failed uprising against Iraq in the mid-70s, while another bemoans how the tragedy of Halabja never managed to become impinged on the world's conscience, leaving his countrymen still trapped between the "four monsters" of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.


Jiyan reminds us of the continued oppression of the Kurdish people, while celebrating their resilience, and suggests through the film's younger characters a measure of tentative hopefulness for the future.

Director Jano Rosebiani had to smuggle his filming equipment for Jiyan into Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkey. Post-production was completed in Brussels.

Film Quote:

Let your gun be the pen, and your warplane be the computer.
Diyari (Kurdo Galali) to Sherko



Philip French
Sunday February 16, 2003
The Guardian

Jano Rosebiani is a Kurd who has lived in the States since the mid-1970s and his touching and topical film, Jiyan, centres on a Kurdish-American, Diyari, returning to help build an orphanage in Halabja, his childhood hometown. This is the city with a population of a 70,000 in Kurdistan, where on 16 March 1988, Saddam Hussein's airforce dropped bombs containing mustard gas, nerve gas and cyanide, killing more than 5,000 adults and children, seriously injuring twice that number, undermining the health of many more and contaminating the countryside.

Coping with terrible poverty and neglect, the people get on with their lives as best they can, trying to preserve their dignity and live as a community. They curse Saddam, of course, and a little boy asks Diyari: 'Why do we have such shitty neighbours?' The movie begins and ends with a 10-year-old orphan on a swing, her face disfigured by the bombing. Called Jiyan, Kurdish for 'hope', she blossoms through her friendship with the visitor, and he names the orphanage after her.



Peter Bradshaw
Friday February 14, 2003
The Guardian

"Martyred Halabja is at your service," says a young boy in this engaging, touching and unaffectedly optimistic serio-comedy about Diyari (Kurdo Galali), a Kurdish man who comes to Halabja to build a new orphanage there - though whether this is with his own money or with that of some aid agency that he has at his personal disposal is unclear. Halabja is the town notoriously gassed by Saddam Hussein and every single inhabitant is deeply affected by the atrocity: especially a girl, Jiyan (Pirshang Berzinji) whose face is scarred but who comes to symbolise the gentle warmth that somehow exists in this shattered community. Writer-director Jano Rosebiani is Kurdish-born and American-educated, and his first movie has something of Kiarostami and Ghobadi, but simpler and happier, without being sentimental.



Jamie Russel
February 5, 2003
Lincolnshire Film, BBC International

"We are trapped between four monsters and our voice doesn't go far," explains one of the citizens of the Kurdish village of Halabja.

It's a fitting comment on the plight of a people who have been systematically harassed by Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. And who, on 16th March 1988, were bombed by Iraqi warplanes carrying chemical and biological weapons.

Five thousand men, women, and children died. nine thousand people were horrifically injured. It was just one of several chemical attacks during the 80s.

Largely ignored by the international community - America had supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran and didn't want to openly condemn him - the massacre at Halabja was a tragedy of epic proportions. Not least because the West refused to offer any substantial aid or support to those affected.

Jano Rosebiani's film begins with the arrival of Diyari (Kurdo Galalî), a Kurdish architect who fled to the United States when he was nine-years-old.

Returning to his homeland to build an orphanage in the village, he finds himself confronted with a community in which daily burials of the dead are a regular occurrence, even years after the attack.

In the midst of this mourning community he discovers two children, cousins Shêrko (Çoman Hawramî) and Jiyan (Pîsheng Berzincî), who prove that it is still possible to salvage something from this decimated village.

From this simple premise, Jiyan (whose name translates as "Life") leads the outsider to a greater understanding of the human cost of the tragedy.

Reaching towards redemption rather than condemnation, Rosebiani's Nietzsche-reading hero rejects cries for vengeance and instead embraces the village's gathering sense of joyous regeneration.

It's a moving film, at times terrible, at other times terribly funny. It reminds us that tragedies don't end just because the media spotlight has moved elsewhere.


Land and freedom

More than a decade after the Gulf war brought the Iraqi Kurds a degree of intellectual liberty, Kurdish cinema is beginning to develop.

Wendy Ide
Friday January 31, 2003
The Guardian

Think of Kurdish cinema and you tend to think of the bullet-strafed mountain country of Iranian Kurdistan captured in Samira Makhmalbaf's Blackboards.
Or Bahman Ghobadi's A Time for Drunken Horses, with its desperate orphans braving sub-zero temperatures and mines on the Iran-Iraq border. You might anticipate the anger of Jano Rosebiani's Jiyan, which inspects the town of Halabja, subjected to a chemical and biological attack by Saddam Hussein's air force in March 1988. But you would certainly not expect the polite suburban setting of the Turkish film Hejar.

Hejar, a slow-burning drama, examines the unfolding relationship between a crusty old man and a headstrong five-year-old girl. There's little here to cause offence; still less to suggest that Hejar might be a threat to Turkish national security. Yet last year, at the request of the police, the film was banned from being shown in Turkey, which gives some indication of just how politically sensitive the Kurdish question was there at that time.

Turks and Kurds, director Handan Ipekci (herself Turkish) says, have lived peacefully side by side for centuries in Anatolia. And they largely continue to do so in the country's cities. "It's such a mixed community," she says, "that you can't really say 'the Turkish people' and 'the Kurdish people'." But, until a recent ceasefire, there was an ongoing armed struggle between government forces and the Kurdish guerrillas in the south-east of the country, which resulted from what Ipekci describes as "a political mistake" during the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1917. She means neglecting to implement land reform in the region, leaving Kurdish peasants locked in a financially crippling feudal system. Another significant factorwas a national ban on the Kurdish language in Turkey. An intense woman in her mid-40s, Ipekci says with absolute finality, "It was not possible for me not to make a film about the Kurdish people."

The idea for Hejar came during a period of nationalist fervour in 1998 surrounding the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Turkish republic. This, together with the threat of tensions in the south-east spilling over into the urban communities, convinced her to make a film about the relationship between the Turkish and Kurdish communities. "It was," she says, "a terrible time."

The script tells a simple story hooked on less-than-subtle symbolism. Five-year-old Hejar (the name means "oppressed") is left by her grandfather at the Istanbul flat of a distant relative. But the apartment is also sheltering a pair of dissident Kurdish guerrillas. Across the hallway, retired Turkish judge Rifat instinctively sides with the police when they raid the flat, but can't bring himself to turn a child over to the officers in charge.

The question of language is central to the film. The old judge, Ipekci explains, is the authoritarian figure who symbolises the official line that the Kurdish language doesn't exist. His beleaguered Kurdish servant represents cultural repression.

It's a gently optimistic message which might have gone unchecked but for one contentious scene in which the police raid raid the flat and an officer apparently shoots an unarmed woman at point-blank range. It's a moment that Ipekci defends - "We have had cases where the police did go in shooting to kill in a totally unlawful way" - but it was enough, given the unstable political situation at the time of the picture's release in October 2001, to get Hejar withdrawn from cinemas, even through it had already won numerous film festival prizes and had been chosen as Turkey's entry to the Academy awards. Ipekci went to court and eventually the decision was reversed, but it was too late to get the film reinstated in the Istanbul festival's national competition, where she was tipped to win several prizes.
Ipekci is philosophical about this disappointment. Hejar is not the first film she's had to fight to get shown. No Turkish distributor would support her first picture, Dad Is in the Army, which looked at the impact of the 1980 military coup through the eyes of a child. Consequently, Ipekci took on the responsibility herself, driving around the country and brow-beating exhibitors into showing the film. It was, she says, a tragicomic situation.

Jano Rosebiani, the director of Jiyan, has more fundamental problems with the authorities. Taking film equipment into Iraqi Kurdistan is, in his words, "a no-no", so he was forced to seek the help of smugglers to transport his digital camera equipment into Kurdistan from Turkey. His film is closer in content and style to Iranian cinema. As in Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us, which Jiyan somewhat resembles, an urbane city man visits a small town in the furthest reaches of Kurdistan. Rosebiani's protagonist is a Kurd returning to the area for the first time after fleeing to America in the wake of the collapse of the Kurdish uprising in 1975. His aim is to build an orphanage for the children of Halabja, the decimated Kurdish town that lost around 5,000 of its population in the 1988 attack. A Kurdish-American, Rosebiani makes no secret of the personal relevance of the story. "I wanted to be a window through which to introduce the Kurdish way of life, their culture; the Kurdish people and their dilemma," he says. "As a Kurd and a film-maker, I felt it was my duty to expose that information. Basically, me making the film Jiyan is the same as the character building the orphanage."

Rosebiani was prevented from spending a long time in Halabja as, 12 years on, the town's water supply and vegetation were still contaminated. Instead he scouted for locations in other Kurdish villages and peopled his cast with survivors of Halabja. It's perhaps no wonder, given the human cost of the attacks, that Rosebiani finds it a struggle to keep his films apolitical. And, he says, it is this unavoidable emotional involvement that sets his work, and that of fellow Kurd Bahman Ghobadi, apart from that of Kiarostami and Mohsen and Samira Makhmalbaf. "The [Iranian] films are more poetic and symbolic. A Kurdish film-maker is trying to make art, but at the same time we have this urgency to tell the world about this group of people and their plight."

Rosebiani says that, as yet, "there is no Kurdish cinema". But while he is dismissive about the chances of a truly Kurdish cinematic voice emerging from Turkey, he is optimistic about the prospects in the liberated Iraqi region of Kurdistan. "They hadn't had the freedom even to publish their books, or to write their poetry for so many decades. Now for 10 years they have had that opportunity and suddenly hundreds of books have been published, and television and radio stations opened."

Film-making in Iraqi Kurdistan is mainly restricted to video, the only medium available. But there are plans to open a film academy as part of the national university. "Everybody is in favour, and we'll see what the situation is after the dust has settled within the next couple of months," says Rosebiani, touching on one issue that may serve to increase international coverage of the plight of the Kurds. War on Iraq can't fail to impact on Kurdistan, perched between two major players in "the axis of evil".

"Now that the west is prepared to remove Saddam," says Rosebiani, "once again the Kurdish issue is being used - not for the love of the Kurds, but to convince their public that Saddam must be removed. Kurds have always been victims of their own circumstances and at times they benefit from the exposure. That's really the Kurdish dilemma."


As FLIFF ends, extra Jiyan a fine touch

John Dolen
South Florida Sun-Sentinel - Arts & Features Editor
November 10 2002

Certain movies are the stuff good film festivals are made of. In Fort Lauderdale's festival, ending today, I'd count the flawless Take Care of My Cat (Korea), the provocative documentary War and Peace (India), and Jiyan, which has been added to today's lineup (at 1:10 p.m.).

Heard of no-fly zones? Of villages where a tyrant used chemical weapons on his own people? The media buzz phrases are hard to escape even if you're not a news junkie.

So how about a movie filmed entirely in such villages, a movie that Hollywood wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole?

Jiyan, which was awarded a special jury prize at Seattle's film fest this year, was filmed in 28 days in Kurdistan, the part of Iraq under U.S. protection and previously under immense suffering. Kurdish expatriate Jano Rosebiani had to smuggle his film out of the region for post-production in Belgium.

The film takes us to the center of the volcano, so to speak, with a film whose heart and soul are as big and beautiful as the eyes of its brightest star, Pirshang Berzinji, as the orphan Jiyan, 10.

The story is simple: a Kurdish-American arrives in the impoverished village of Halabja, which suffered chemical and biological attacks, to help the townspeople build a new and much-needed orphanage.

If at times artfulness and mild polemics get in the way of the story, these are far outweighed by the documentary feel, the courage and hope of the Kurds and the big story that is being told here.

And that's not to mention the whole assortment of delightful characters who populate this drama, some who'll make you smile, some who'll make you cry, and all who will make you care.



by Jaap Mees
Talking Picture
London, UK

Jiyan made by self taught Kurdish/American filmmaker Jano Rosebiani, is a magnificent film. Seeing a film like this in the London Film Festival reminds you why you want to be in film making in the first place. It has all ingredients that makes a memorable and fantastic film. Like good and natural acting, exquisite photography by Koutaiba Al Janabi, who made the maximum out of minimum resources. A story that matters and needs to be told urgently, and most of all a film with a warm beating heart.

What is it with those Kurdish films? Two years ago another fabulous Kurd, Bahman Ghobadi, made the wonderful "A Time for Drunken Horses" about mountain children smuggling to survive in very harsh conditions. 

Jiyan deals with the aftermath of the evil actions of Saddam Hussein, who killed 5000 people of Halabja (Kurdistan) in a chemical and biological attack. More than 9000 inhabitants remained mutilated for life. Five years later Diyari visits the city in his car and plans to build an orphanage for the victims. He is very well played by the sympathetic Kurdo Galali, through whose eyes we see the story develop. This is one of the clever moves of director Rosebiani, which shows he understands how important it is to have a lead character who is instantly  likeable, so the audience can identify themselves with him.

He meets a shy and sweet orphan girl Jiyan, which means life, slowly but gradually an intense and touching friendship develops. The only person who survived the chemical genocide of her family is her [cousin] Sherko. Jiyan is my heart and soul, he says several times, she means everything for him. We meet all different people in Halabja: a woman who falls in love with Diyari. He denies her in a very gracious letter and explains he is honoured that she fancied him, but he is happily married with two children. Another magical character is an old man who refuses to talk anymore, after the killing of his wife and eight children. He plays the whole day on his flute on the roof of his house.

Much credit should also go to D.O.P Koutaiba Al Janabi, who  excels in creating sublime images, his shots of the flute player on the roof at night, the capturing of a sandstorm, his sense of time and place are unforgettable.  Koutaiba’s genuine eye for the beauty and hardship on the faces of the Kurdish people is very impressive indeed. Quite a revelation  to see a cinematographer who takes the time to frame and light with great care and not pan along rapidly without allowing people to really see.

Filmmakers and producers  should queue up in signing him for their next projects!

Jiyan is an important, authentic and moving film. It is intended as the first part of a trilogy on Kurdish life and culture. Truly inspiring films like Jiyan should be cherished and talented filmmakers like Jano Rosebiani should be embraced.



Adrian Bailey, Liverpool, UK
January 2002

Towards the end of the 1980s Iraq-Iran conflict, Saddam unleashed savage fury against the Kurdish civilian population living in the border region as retaliation against Kurdish fighters' supporting the Iranian offensive. Hundreds of villages were razed, children were tortured and executed, and chemical weapons were used from 1987. On 15 March 1988, Iranian and Kurdish forces captured the town of Halabja, a strategically important position. The next day Iraq retaliated with a massive chemical attack. In a matter of minutes, 5000 civilians were killed and a further 9000 left maimed and deformed.

Jiyan tells the story of how, five years later, a survivor of an elementary school attack in 1974 where 184 children were killed, Diyari, returns to the town from America to help the community construct a much needed orphanage. Jiyan (which means Life) is much more than a beautiful story. For a start, it is an allegory of the centuries of the horrifying victimisation of Kurds by neighbouring nation states against a backdrop of indifference from the west. But Jiyan is not an angry or depressing film: it is lyrical and poetic, enchanting and life-enhancing, a subtle interweaving of elements, a tapestry.

One of the many achievements of the film is its representation of the people in Halabja – children, men and women with dreams and aspirations, traditions and culture, friendships, love, a strong and deep rooted sense of community, resilience. People like us, people like those who perished in the Twin Towers, people like those countless thousands of Kurds who have been annihilated. And they are portrayed gently going about their lives – gossiping, romancing, sharing food, making music, and because this is Halabja, sheltering from a storm of contaminated dust stirred up by the wind, and suffering in the hospital.

When Diyari arrives, he meets up with Salar Hawari a respected resident. Early on, he tells Diyari, "The future is uncertain. Those who died in the chemical attacks were lucky. Those who survived are between life and death." This 'betweeness' of life and death is an important theme. Against the poisonous landscape is evoked the beauty of flowers, as Jiyan herself is beautiful with her scarred face; against death and destruction, fertility is imagined in a joyous wedding feast and dancing; against the dehumanisation of people is shown their kindness, care and good humour – and Jiyan is full of delightful humour.

Those in Halabja are between states, literally. Salar Hawari refers to the nations which imposed themselves on Kurdistan (Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria) as "the four monsters". He wishes they were as fortunate as those in Hiroshima or Nagasaki for at least they received the attention of the world. But there are two worlds: Diyari tells Jiyan that he comes "from the other side of the world". That other world is 'The West', the United States. He gives Jiyan a magazine on the cover of which is a picture of a rose garden; she shows the magazine to her aunt who caresses the image longingly, though she is blind. Such small moments are typical of the film's memorable imagery, its lyrical, painterly qualities.

Mela Rostem was a preacher. He lost his wife and eight children in the chemical attack. Now he sits night and day on a roof, playing a pipe, and wrapped into himself with something having died within him but something having been born. His sorrowful, plaintive melodies fall across the town, his music vibrating with Life.

Music is a potent expression of the human spirit. The one anti-life character in the film is a disapproving fundamentalist who condemns Mela Rostem, displays of dancing and all 'forbidden pleasures'. He is beaten (in an amusing sequence) by one of the town's matriarchs who complains, as she thrashes him, that they are not living in Afghanistan. Jiyan is concerned not only with brutality but also with all that would suppress life.

Life is most fulsome in Love, and there is plenty of it here. Jiyan is going to marry her 12 years old cousin, Shérco, when they are older; meanwhile they are inseparable childhood friends. A young man woos his intended on the other side of a wall by reciting poetry. One of a trio of vibrant, life-drenched sisters falls hopelessly and madly in love with Diyari. And it is a forlorn love, for he is married – and he comes from the other world.
There are happy celebrations upon completion of the orphanage, the children joyous and singing. For the future, Diyari tells Shérco, "Let your gun be the pen and your warplane be the computer". The orphanage is named Jiyan, and at the opening ceremony the Mayor tells the children and the rest, "We have preserved our identity for 5000 years and will continue to do so." There follows enthusiastic crying of "Long live Kurdistan!" But there are problems with the optimism. Diyari is a man of two worlds. Although the orphanage is much needed, it is a small thing in the wider context: "The future is uncertain… Those who survive are between life and death." And the Four Monsters have not gone away. Diyari returns to the other world, and the landscape he leaves remains poisonous.
The film begins and ends with the same image. Jiyan is sitting on a swing beneath a tree on the outskirts of the town, a forlorn and sad figure. We may wonder what will become of those people she represents, those millions who continue to suffer under the tyrannies of nationalist terrorism and western indifference. But something has been shown that is strong and enduring: it is Jiyan. It is Life.

-Adrian Bailey is a media analyst and freelance writer


Erger dan 911
Kees Driessen
The Daily Tiger, 25 January 2002

Toen de Koerdische bevolking van Halabja in 1988 op bevel van Saddam Hoessein met gifgas werd bestookt, vielen er meer doden dan op 11 september 2001 in New York. Behalve vijfduizend directe slachtoffers raakten zevenduizend mannen, vrouwen en kinderen verminkt. Hoewel foto's van de met lijken bezaaide straten de pers haalden, is het de Koerden nooit gelukt om, zoals de Palestijnen, de leren of nu zelfs de Afghanen, de wereldpolitiek te veroveren. Dus wordeng nog streeds kinderen geboren met afwijkingen en is er nog steeds een tekort aan medicijnen.

Een enorm onderwerp voor een speelfilm. En voor de Koerdische-Amerikaanse regisseur Jano Rosebiani is JIYAN pas zijn tweede film. Het is een verhaal dat nog niet genoeg verteld is, en JIYAN is daarom gedeeltelijk een pamflet. Er zijn teksten aan begin en einde, die in grote lijnen uitleggen wat er gebeurd is, en sommige monologen zijn bedoeld om de kijker te informeren en misstanden te benoemen. Maar daaromheen, en dat maakt JIYAN aangrijpend, heeft Rosebiani een levendige, menselijke en vaak ansichtkaartmooie film gemaakt.

Hij opent met zwarf-witopnamen, die verwijzen naar de destijds gemaakte foto's. Gruwelijke beelden van mensen die lijken te slapen. Daarna een beeld, in kleur, van een meisje dat in slow-motion schommelt. In de lucht verschijnt de titel - haar naam - JIYAN. Een close-up: de huid van haar wang is verkleurd, aangetast door de chemicalliën. Vervolgens probeert een man in een vriendelijk gesprek haar naam te achterhalen.

Deze afwisseling van weidse, door muziek gedragen beelden met ontspannen registraties van menselijke contact kenmerkt de hele film. Dat werkt twee kanten op: het maak Rosebiani's aanklacht menselijk en ontroerend en het verleent de gebeurtenissen van alledag een onderliggende drama-tische laag. gelukkig vindt Rosebiani daarbij voldoende ruimte voor vrolijke dingen: een liefdesverhaal, een huwelijk en vooral de ontwapenende Jiya.


O Cinema como veículo de intervenção social:
Sobre o filme Vida (Jiyan) do realizador Curdo jano Rosebiani

Cristina Gomes da Silva - Sociólogap
Festroia – Setúbal, Junho de 2002

Este foi o tema que me foi dado comentar. Não sei se pelo facto do filme denunciar uma situação de Guerra e as guerras serem sempre injustas, ainda que sejam santas. Qualquer Guerra exige uma qualquer intervenção social ou melhor uma intervenção na sociedade que lhe serve de palco.

Não tenhoa certeza se a sociedade retratada por este filme é passível de intervenção. Talvez os palcos, prefíro o plural, em que se desenrolam cenas reais como as que acabámos de ver no filme nem sequer estejam disponíveis para sofrerem algum tipo de intervenção.

Prefíro, então, falar em denúncia de situações dramáticas, mesmo trágicas. A intervenção virá ou não mas sera sempre subsequente.

Como socióloga, e é nessa qualidade que aqui estou, prefíro considerar que o cinema, seja qual for a temática abordada tem sempre un papel interventor nos costumes, nos compartamentos, nas linguagens ou nas opções estéticas. Resta saber se é intervenção social e o que é intervir socialmente. Será isto que estamos aqui a fazer? É que os que aqui estão já tomaran consciência das coisas. Às vezes deixamo-la adormecer, mas não ignoramus. É só um pouco de letargia. A intervenção social tem de ser mais ampla e profunda, caso contrário serão sempre e só alguns os eleitos. Agora, como professora considero que a escola pode ser um bom veículo para as mensagens trazidas pelo cinema e que aí poderão ser formados cidadãos com intervenção na sociedade.

De qualquer modo, gostaria de salientar alguns aspectos/imagens do filme.

HALABJA – 1988 – Cidade Curde bombardeada pelas forças de Saddam Hussein. Cinco mil pessoas mortas, sete mil feridas e desfiguradas.

As primeiras imagens dão-nos conta de mortos de todas as idades surpeendidos nas suas actividades quotidianas. Imagens, sem dúvida, chocantes mas às quais já nos habituámos quando pensamos numa Guerra. No entanto, há uma outra que me prendeu por ser menos óbvia nas imagens de uma Guerra, mas que não deixa de ser muito forte e muito presente, a da solidão:

- primeiro a menina que se balança no baloiço, perdida sabemos lá em que mundos, quando a câmara se aproxima apercebemo-nos de uma cicatriz de queinmadura no rosto. Ela é uma sobrevivente.- o homem que viaja sozinho no jeep enquanto come una maçã.- numa outra cena, outra homem, sozinho em cima de um telhado. Toca flauta. Mais tarde ficamos a saber que diexou de falar quando perdeu toda a familia no bombardeamento

Tantos personagens e tantas solidões, que não seriam solidões se fossem voluntaries.

Não há flores nem vegetação. As armas químicas mataram tudo e não deixam que a vida regresse. Vida, Jiyan, é também o título do filme e o nome da menina do baloiço. Aqui fica a denúncia das consequências da Guerra.

A intervenção afínal fica a cargo de um dos personagens: o homem que viajava sozinho no jeep enquanto comia uma maçã. Ele próprio é outro sobrevivente de uma outra Guerra (bombardeamento de uma escola primária em Queladiza, 1974) e vai a Halabja para construir um orfanato destinado a acolher as crianças que fícaram sem família. Vida sera também o nome do orfanato.

Afínal, “apesar dos pesares” como cantou o Chico Buarque, fíca-nos uma mensagem de esperança no meio de tanto desespero…


by Sam Adams
Philladelphia City Paper

Scattered Seeds of Hanareh: The New Kurdish Cinema (through Sun, Feb. 22, International House, 3701 Chestnut St., 215-895-6542) Freelance telejournalist Kevin McKiernan spent years documenting the situation of the Kurds in northern Iraq and southern Turkey, but as he relates in his documentary, Good Kurds, Bad Kurds, when he took his footage to American networks, they told him "the story was not on their radar." Though they constitute the world's largest stateless ethnic group (anywhere from 20 to 40 million), and their existence continues to be a major factor in the United States' Iraq policy, the Kurds' situation has only recently burst into the public consciousness in this country, due not only to the Kurds' central role in the future of Iraq, but to the emergence of a new group of films addressing the situation of Kurds in the modern world. As Jamsheed Akrami, the programmer of International House's Kurdish series, puts it, the films "give the Kurds a voice."

Now a teacher at William Paterson University, Akrami was born in Iran, and has directed several documentaries on Iranian cinema, but despite his extensive knowledge of Iranian cinema, Akrami had never heard Kurdish spoken onscreen until he saw Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us (1999). "I had been watching all these movies, so you'd think that not too many scenes are going to move me that easily," recalls Akrami, whose heritage is Kurdish. "But just hearing those few lines [spoken] by these minor characters, it gave me this uncanny feeling, as if the characters were speaking to me. Because I was hearing a language that I had only heard within the confines of my own family."

The history of Kurdish filmmakers goes back many years -- Akrami points to the Turkish-born Yilmaz Güney, whose Yol shared the Palme d'Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival -- but the history of explicitly Kurdish films is a far more recent one. While Güney was one of Turkey's most popular stars, few knew of his Kurdish heritage; his IMDb biographer refers to him as "a Turkish director for the Turkish people." But with the 2000 release of Bahman Ghobadi's A Time for Drunken Horses (Sat., 8 p.m.), a new, explicitly Kurdish cinema was born. (Hiner Saleem's 1997 romantic comedy, Vive la mariéeÉ et la libération de Kurdistan, predates it, but it received little distribution outside of France.) A former assistant director to Kiarostami, Ghobadi created a searing portrait of Kurds scraping out a living on the border between Iran and Iraq. (Borders figure heavily in Ghobadi's second feature, Marooned in Iraq -- not surprising when you consider that a map of Kurdistan stretches over present-day Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.) Showered with awards (including the Caméra d'Or and FIPRESCI prize at Cannes), A Time for Drunken Horses immediately established Ghobadi as an international spokesman for the Kurds, and a unique voice in the cinema. "Part of his success as a filmmaker is that he's a filmmaker with a cause, a Kurdish cause," says Akrami. "He's made movies that have brought the Kurdish culture and reality to an outside world which was largely unfamiliar with it. That's also combined with his strong passion in the job he's doing. He's determined to make the Kurdish voice heard."

Emboldened by the existence of a largely autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, other filmmakers took up the cause -- and, no doubt encouraged by the international success of Ghobadi's films, festivals and distributors began to take greater notice, though no Kurdish filmmaker has gone on to anything like Ghobadi's acclaim. That sin of omission is most keenly felt with regard to Kazim Oz's Fotograf (Thu., 8 p.m.), a haunting depiction of the situation in present-day Turkey, where government battles with Kurdish guerrillas are a frequent occurrence. As shown in Good Kurds, Bad Kurds, which screens as part of the same program, the Turkish government's repression of its Kurdish population (some 12 to 15 million) encompasses not only the banning of the Kurdish language and dress, but the destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages (according to the Turks, as retaliation for the villagers' refusal to be drafted into the Turkish army, where they would be forced to fight their own people).

McKiernan's documentary is necessary preparation for Fotograf, which deals with the conflict mainly in shorthand. Opening with images of Turkish militarism, the film picks up the story of two young men who strike up a friendship on a bus trip. Though Turkish viewers would recognize one as a Turk and one as a Kurd, the film resists attempts to characterize them further. At a rest area, the two watch a TV bulletin of a battle between the Turkish army and Kurdish guerrillas, but rather than illustrating the divide between the two men, their silent, stunned reactions seem almost identical. It's up to the audience to decide what's going through each man's mind. With transcendent humanism, Oz responds to a period of great turmoil with sublime stillness; when one man tells the other, "There's no justice in this world," the camera pans out the window and all sound drops away, as the countryside moves by in silence. Fotograf's chances for distribution may have been hurt by its unusual length (just over an hour), but the fact that this astonishing debut film has received so little attention outside of Turkish film festivals is nothing short of a scandal. Recalling the poetic naturalism of the films in I-House's Silk Road series (particularly Darezhan Omirbaev's Kairat), Fotograf meditates on fate and the circularity of experience as well as lodging a quiet but powerful protest.

Treading similar ground, Handan Ipekçi's Hejar (Fri., 8 p.m.) is comparatively lead-footed. The story of a retired Turkish judge who shelters a Kurdish girl after her guardians are killed by the police, Hejar is a sentimental allegory, where the judge's softening toward his tiny ward (whose name means "crushed") is a plea for a nation's understanding. Reprised from the 2002 Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, Jano Rosebiani's Jiyan (Sun., 7 p.m.) takes a similarly allegorical tack with its story of a Kurdish American who returns to his native town of Halabja, where chemical attacks by Saddam Hussein's troops left 5,000 dead and thousands more deformed. Shot in Halabja, with many survivors of the attacks among its cast, Jiyan is eloquently simple where Hejar feels reductive. The building of a new orphanage signifies a rebirth for "martyred Halabja," a chance to begin anew.

Though Akrami allows there are few stylistic links between the films in the series, he points out that, like Jiyan, many feature orphans as central characters. "It's indicative of the genocide going on in Kurdistan for years, and a metaphor for the whole Kurdish nation, which is a nation without a country, an orphan nation." Ironically, considering that Saddam Hussein's brutal treatment of the Kurds was central to the Bush administration's rationale for war, the Kurds stand a good chance of losing their hard-won autonomy in northern Iraq, since any attempt to make that status permanent would likely alienate Turkey, one of the most critical U.S. allies in the region. As Akrami points out (and Good Kurds, Bad Kurds reiterates), the U.S. has a history of supporting Kurdish revolt and then abandoning it, not just after the first Gulf War, but during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1970s as well. Caught between Turkey's anti-Kurdish policy and the election-driven need for a hasty democracy in Iraq, the U.S. is on the verge of betraying the Kurds for a third time, recalling the old Kurdish saying, "The Kurds have no friends." "Right now they seem to be forced to share the destiny of the whole country," Akrami says. "They would rather have the status quo."

Chi-hwa-seon ($29.95 DVD) The Raging Bull of artistic biographies, Im Kwon-Taek's Chi-hwa-seon (Painted Fire) returns to turbulent 19th-century Korea to tell the equally turbulent life story of the legendary Ohwon (Choi Min-Sik). Though the movie indulges the inevitable biopic cliches -- "paint the thoughts behind the shape," a teacher advises him -- Choi's red-blooded performance and the exquisite simplicity of the movie's images bring life to the form. An inveterate boozer and womanizer, Choi's Ohwon lives a raucous life that contrasts markedly with the stillness of his images (which often adorn fans or screens, and so are more part of life than Girl with a Pearl Earring's isolated tableaux). Im's movie is similarly polarized, which can make for a disjunctive experience, but such contradictions are exactly what the movie embraces.


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