This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 2nd June 2013
It is no mean feat to extend a short film into a feature length movie which is worthy of the growth, but writer-director Karzan Kader has achieved just that.
Taking his 2010 short Bekas and using the same actors and plotline, the Kurdish Iraqi director has taken the opportunity to flesh out the brothers’ relationship and heighten the drama of their narratively simple quest: to leave Iraq and move to America to live with Superman.
Dana and Zana are orphaned boys living in 1990s Iraq under the war-torn regime of Saddam Hussein. They shine shoes to cadge a living, bolstered by their warm relationship with the blind clock-mender, Baba Shalid. Writing a list of people whom he will get Superman to punish for being mean to them, 7-year old Zana puts Hussein at the top. Meanwhile, his older brother sets to work in securing their passage to freedom.
Promoted as The Kite Runner meets Slumdog Millionaire, this analogy is not far from the mark in terms of the film’s ability to mix charming childhood slapstick with the harsh realities of daily death and terror. The wonderful photography and soundtrack evoke the delights of boyhood, regardless of strife or situation. However, the film’s core strength is in the superb performances of newcomers Zamand Taha and Sarwar Fazil.
While there is an awful lot of shouting (perhaps the only way to get oneself heard amidst such chaos), and the boys’ quest, however charming, drags on slightly, all is salved by a brilliantly nerve-wracking denouement which emphasises the talents of all the film’s players.