My Sweet Pepper Land review: A western through the Kurdish lensMovies
Trailer: My Sweet Pepper Land
Baran, a Kurdish independence war hero turned policeman, takes a posting in the lawless territory on the borders of Iran, Turkey, and Iraq.PT1M56S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-371f2 620 349 April 22, 2014
We're in the remotest reaches of Kurdistan, but Elvis Presley is providing accompaniment and familiar notes are being sounded all round.
The film's Kurdish director, Hiner Saleem, has acknowledged a debt to John Ford with this story, about a former hero of the Kurdish war of independence who's about to become sheriff in a lawless village on the border between Kurdistan, Turkey and Iran.
Golshifteh Farahani in My Sweet Pepper Land.
It's a place where men are tough, women are scarce and the traffic in illegal goods has so far been unstoppable. Baran (Korkmaz Arslan) is out to restore order, and Govend (Golshifteh Farahani), the village schoolteacher, has taken on an equally massive task. Nobody wants her at the school – nobody, that is, except the children she teaches. They adore her. Her headmaster does not, especially when she and the troublesome Baran become attracted to one another. The local warlord and his thugs take against them both and mayhem ensues, complicated by the courage Govend displays in helping a group of female freedom fighters hiding out in the hills.
Baran and Govend make a sexy, glamorous pair. Her good looks are enhanced by a quiet confidence in her wish to stay exactly where she is, and he has all the attributes of the classic western hero, although I'm pleased to say that he's no John Wayne, in thrall to his own machismo. He makes a more responsive romantic lead. He actually seems to be listening to what Govend is saying.
This is Saleem's ninth film. Italy's Gillo Pontecorvo, the great political filmmaker, helped him complete his first one after an earlier shoot was curtailed by Saddam's war on the Kurds in 1991. He's since made several films about Kurdish migrants and expatriates, drawing on his own experiences, but this is the first he's made in Kurdistan since it achieved independence and it's full of affection for the country. Admittedly, the denouement is slightly off the pace and it all fades to an anticlimax, but wide blue skies, craggy bluffs and sure-footed mountain ponies are all put to good use.
The western may have hit hard times, but it's still adaptable, and in this previously unexplored context it's looking pretty good.