KILOMETER ZERO (Hiner Saleem, 2005)

Writer-director Bahman Ghobadi is an Iranian Kurd. Writer-director Hiner Saleem is an Iraqi Kurd, and his trenchant, deliriously lovely tragicomedy Kilomètre zéro, like so many of Ghobadi’s films, is a “road picture.” The film is from Iraq, France and Finland.
     In the 1980s, Ako, an electrician from the village of Amedi in Kurdistan, is impressed into war service against Iran in Basra, ripping him from wife Selma and family, including his blind, bedridden father-in-law, to whom Selma is devoted but whom he treats as the bane of his existence. Someone else now occupies that role: the Arab driver with whom he is escorting a corpse back to the fallen soldier’s home. Long-shots including the flag-draped coffin on top of the van continually reiterate war’s assault on families.
     All ends happily, with Ako and Selma’s reunion, in a Parisian coda.
     Saleem is a visual ironist. The hypnotic beauty of the countryside as the two men ride through implies the horrors of war at a distance, the assault on Nature, much as the coffin is a constant reminder of war’s assault on humanity. Saleem and color cinematographer Robert Alazraki collaborate on exquisite landscapes: a sensual dream cloaking a nightmare. One recalls the ending of Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece Ugetsu monogatari (1953), where we know that war kills just beyond the peaceful village we see.
     The absurdist bickering between Kurd and Arab—Ako and the driver—projects the precarious unity and stability of Iraq. The coffin evolves into a mordant symbol of this as well.
     Considerable visual wit is generated by an army of full-body sculptures of Saddam Hussein in an authoritative, presumably inspirational pose, but the most brilliant image of all is that of a winding, seemingly endless caravan of transports each with a flag-draped coffin on top.

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