Ahlaam (Dreams)

A promising set-up: Ahlaam is the first Iraqi film about the US-led invasion.

This is the first Iraqi film about the American-led invasion. Its strength is its focus on the Iraqi experience, not, as have US and British films, on the occupying soldiers.

It follows three Iraqis. Mehdi is a medical student with a doting mother, who’s delighted to pass his exams. Ali is a soldier. Ahlaam is a literature student who’s about to marry.

The film pulls no punches in condemning Saddam’s Iraq. Mehdi is denied further study because his father was an executed communist. His only options are to join the army, and, later, to work in a mental hospital. Ali is wounded in an American-British bombing raid during Operation Desert Fox. Carrying a dying friend to find help, he’s charged with desertion. As punishment his ear is cut off and he’s imprisoned in an insane asylum.

Ahlaam’s fiancé, who’s an opposition activist, is arrested at their wedding ceremony, and disappears. Ahlaam loses her mind and is incarcerated in the same ‘hospital’ as Ali, where Mehdi now works.

So far so good. The stories are specific, more-or-less convincing and the film nicely pulls the threads together. Sadly though, the film then fails to do much with the promising set-up. When the hospital is hit during the bombing of Baghdad, the patients escape and wander into the city. The medic, Mehdi, runs around showing generic concern; Ahlaam, in her wedding dress, does generic fear and confusion. The characters, particularly Ahlaam’s, are feebly drawn, and the (non-professional) actors are stretched beyond their abilities. The last 30 minutes are frenetic, repetitive and irritating, and, because they are unconvincing, diminish the awful reality of the bombardment and military invasion.


New Internationalist issue 422 magazine cover This article is from the May 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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