My Sweet Pepper Land - Review

I dedicate (some would argue waste) countless hours watching films in search of moments when the art form genuinely moves me. Scanning for films which surpass mere entertainment or even escapism, in hope of witnessing something which feels significant. My Sweet Pepper Land the latest film by Hiner Saleem sits comfortably in this category. I feel it’s only fair to warn you that this may very well descend quite rapidly into an all-out-love-fest, such was the experience I had watching it, so i’ll try to maintain some level of composure, but no promises …

The film is set in a post Saddam Hussein Kurdistan, which  is struggling to define itself despite newfound independence. Baran (Korkmaz Arslan) is a restless war hero, who in search of a new challenge, agrees to be the sheriff of an undesirable remote rural village. Enroute to his new posting he meets Govend (Golshifteh Farahani) the village school teacher, Govend is dedicated to her work, despite immense pressure from her family to return home and marry a man she doesn’t love. The village is controlled by the local warlord Azzi Aga (Tarik Akreyî) who blatantly trafficks an assortment of goodies into the neighbouring countries. The three end up on a collision course when Baran refuses to bow to Azzi’s wishes.

Essentially this feels like a reimagining of any American Cowboy/Western film of the 50s or 60s, however it’s grounded in the realities of modern day Kurdistan. This is the type of story the likes of John Wayne or Audie Murphy would have devoured; the lone law man coming in to liberate the town from the local riff raff, all the while saving the damsel in distress who’s tied to the railway tracks. While this film rests heavily on the Western genre tropes, it’s got a hell of lot more to say not only about Kurdistan but about womens rights, traditional values, familial duties and much much more. The Western genre influences are evident in subtle touches within the costuming, soundtrack and the terrain the film is set in.

The two leads are superb, their characters are established quite effectively thanks to montages giving us a taste of the pressures they are living under. Baran is a loveable rogue (very much a Kurdish Han Solo), his matter is trying to marry him off and we are treated to a lovely montage of her efforts. Korkmaz Arslan is instantly likeable, he has kind face yet you can tell he’s capable of surviving tough situations; basically everything you want from a sheriff. Govend is flanked by her army of brothers who want her to live a traditional lifestyle i.e. married with children. The film takes its time to establish the characters and show their motivations for running off to this god forsaken village, which is essential to the story and well executed.

This film feels important because the lead characters are each fighting battles which for me felt as though the director may have been commenting on several Middle Eastern countries. Baran represents the new emerging generation of Kurdistan rallying against the traditional attitudes of yesteryear, which results in obvious tension. He wants a justice system which is free of the corruption which is clearly crippling the village, a system free of external forces which in this case is represented by Azzi Aga. Govend represents the need for gender equality and the rights of women to be upheld. Promoting a world where women can chose any occupation they want and don’t just have to settle for what they are given. It’s film like these which may one day penetrate into cultures where women aren’t so fortunate and may go about effecting some kind of change.

This is a small yet beautiful film which i encourage everyone to see, it’s truly one of the most compelling films i’ve had the pleasure of watching for quite some time. I can’t imagine this will stay in cinemas for too long so make the effort to get out and see it. It’s another reason why 2014 is shaping up to be one of the greatest years in cinema for a long time. If you see the film and agree or disagree feel free to leave a comment below.

- Stu


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