Our River, Our Sky  (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Maysoon Pachachi , Iraq/France/Kuwait/UK/Germany/United Arab Emirates/Qatar, 2021, 117 mins, in Arabic with subtitles

Cast:  Darina Al Joundi

Review by Carol Allen

This is a  disturbing depiction of life in the war zone that was Baghdad in 2006, which from Iranian writer/director Maysoon Pachachi’s film bears comparison with life in Belfast in the second half of the 20th century. 

In a typically mixed Baghdad neighbourhood, the stories of novelist Sara (Darina Al Joundi) and her neighbours unfold and intersect, as their lives are disturbed and  torn apart by extreme sectarian violence,  while nightly curfews trap them inside their homes. The images are powerful.  The devastation of the streets and houses.  The almost constant noise of  explosions and shooting in the background.  The traffic jams, when the car next to you could be blown up any moment or the bus driver murdered.   The film concentrates on the impact of this on ordinary life.

The politics causing the disturbance are almost incidental, apart from when they intrude directly on the characters’ lives, as with the man who shouts at a woman for not covering her head and the terrorist who won’t let someone attend a funeral because they’re the wrong sort of Muslim.  Or when Sara’s daughter poignantly asks her mother “Are we Suni or Shi’a”. 

We see little of the police.   One raw young recruit is told his job is to frighten people, not be friendly and helpful.  We never see the American peace keeping force but are aware of them in the background.  While in the very first scene in the film a fisherman pulls the body of a young woman from the river with the note round her neck indicating “this is what happens to a fallen woman”. 

Sara is in theory at the centre of the film but sometimes there are so many characters with unfamiliar names, that it takes quite a while to work out who they are and their relationship to each other.   As Pachachi is presumably wanting to reach an international audience, she could perhaps have used Sara more to introduce those characters more clearly. 

Once we’ve identified them though their individual stories build into a whole picture of survival and ordinary people living as best they can in a dangerous and disrupted city.  Which  makes the film ultimately life affirming in the midst of the disruption and destruction