The opening film of this year’s Duhok International Film Festival reminds me of Hamid Naficy’s “accented film” concept he uses to theorize the exilic/diasporic cinema. Naficy coined this term to describe cultural, aesthetic, and political characteristics of “independent transnational cinema” during a private screening in Paris of Makhmalbaf’s “A Time of Love,” an Iranian film shot in Turkish and subtitled in French. These films are “accented” not only “linguistically” but also in terms of aesthetic sensibilities and thematic concerns.
The premiere of Kurdish-Iranian director Kambozia Partovi’s film, “Camion” (spoken in multiple languages and subtitled in English), tells the story of a young Yezidi woman from northern Iraq. After being attacked by Islamic State fighters, she starts on a perilous journey towards Tehran to find her husband with a Kurdish truck driver and her brother-in-law.
As the title of the film suggests, “Camion” is entirely about motion. Everything is in constant movement, with temporary sojourns while eternally on the road. The film expresses a nomadic sense of identity and belongingness of Kurds as traumatized, stateless people.
As the road film has almost become a worldwide cinematic phenomenon, in film studies, we often find references to such categories as “cinema of the borders,” “cinema of migration,” and “cinema of displacement.” These are terms that are intimately linked to the experiences and discourses of exile, immigration, displacement, and border-crossing journeys. According to Naficy, these thematic preoccupations revolve around home-seeking, homelessness and/or homecoming journeys.
I have argued elsewhere that, although the idea in Kurdish cinema could be a new topic, the issue of journey has a long history with Kurds due to their experiences of displacement, exile, deterritorialisation, statelessness, and indeed their culture of nomadism. Speaking more broadly, in most Kurdish films, travel and journey are not synonymic with pleasure and happiness but reflect a sense of displeasure and are correlated with identity as it has also dominated the social and political rhetoric of Kurdish people. Unlike in the Hollywood and European cinemas, in Kurdish films, “journey and new mobility and transition” do not represent a simple destination A-to-B voyage nor a symbol of liberation or emancipation but an ongoing process of mobility to emphasize a quest for identity through a semi-documentary to replicate the director’s personal, familial, and national experiences. This is true in “Camion,” which explicitly exposes a style of harshness and cruelty of the real situation of life.
These films (voyage/quest to reunion), among other road films, addresses the dystopian conception of displacement, crossing borders, and ominous transitions, often with a polyglot; they stand against the mainstream cinema. That’s why these multilingual films (reflecting their interstitial mode of production) concern issues of identity from different perspectives where travel is an answer to the “identity questions” for those not able to express their “Kurdishness.”
In “Camion,” the two main characters, the driver and the Yezidi woman, do not at first communicate in the same language. She even refuses to address the driver directly, instead having her brother-in-law act as mediator until she decides to remove her veil, face the truck driver, and starts to speak in Farsi. The driver, Bahrouz, and the young nameless Yezidi woman (I am a bit surprised I couldn’t find her real name on festival brochures, posters, catalogs, and not even on IMDB) begin to understand each other and try to solve their problems.
This is a reflection of certain unique cinematic style that could be translated as an authorial fingerprint of a director’s own hyphenated identity as a Kurdish-Iranian filmmaker. Hence, “Camion,” as a trilingual film with dialogue in Kurdish, Persian, and some Turkish, challenges the monolithic conception of Kurdishness or the “pan-Kurdish” to borrow from Benedict Anderson’s imagined community. Kambozia, the director, during the brief introduction of the cast, could not introduce himself in the Kurdish language.
“Camion” is a long journey to a cul de sac, an unknown destination, and indeed a lost world. The last sequence of the film shows them getting lost somewhere around Tehran’s suburbs. The journey culminates with no reunion, but with another separation; with loss.
Through cinematic tableaux of landscapes, it illustrates the complexity of Kurdish identities, representation, and problematisation of belongingness. It is an unconventional road film, a non-western narrative, for people who have a sense of “aterritoriality” identity. That is to say; their lost homeland makes them treat “anywhere” as home.
Kovan H. Saado is a lecturer at the University of Sulaimani and a news presenter at Kurdsat Broadcasting Corporation. He received a Global Cultures MA at the University of Sussex where he studied media and film.