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CANNES 2013 Un Certain Regard

My Sweet Pepperland : Make laugh, not war


- Hiner Saleem takes a look full of humour, hope and music at the shambles and archaisms of a Kurdistan slowly picking up the pieces

My Sweet Pepperland : Make laugh, not war

The first scene in the French-German-Iraqi coproduction, My Sweet Pepperland [+see also:
film profile
by Hiner Saleem (produced in particular by Robert Guédiguian),gives a good idea of the good-natured, off-beat humour with which the director approaches the current situation in Kurdistan, a region left in ruins by Saddam Hussein, now trying to restore order but still unsure of what to base itself upon in order to rebuild itself. This prologue in fact shows the ultra-summary execution (in other words, completely messed up !) of a man whose feet still touch the ground after a plastic urn - for lack of a statutory gallows and probably used in the last local elections -, has been dragged away with great difficulty from beneath him, so that the handful of authorites in attendance, with different opinions about the significance of this failed hanging and what to do next, end up by hanging him from a basketball hoop.

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With music and a well-choreographed staging discreetly evoking the atmosphere of certain Bollywood films, we are then introduced to the very beautiful Govend (Golshifteh Farahani), who manages to obtain the authorisation of her father and band of brothers to reject a marriage which has been arranged for her and go to teach in an isolated village on the frontier between Iran, Turkey and Iraq. Meanwhile, Baran (Korkmaz Arslan), a former fighter who does not want to be recycled as a municipal sheriff, nevertheless ends up, faced by the ugliness of the possibles fiancées paraded in front of him by his mother, by accepting a job in the same little village. Thus, each one separately, the determined school-teacher, gentle and cheerful (like the melodies she plays on her hang, a metal percussion instrument which responds harmoniously to her caresses) and the chief of police, firm but kind (his favourite musicians are Elvis, Bach and Mozart) set off for this village reached by crossing superb rivers and canyons worthy of a western, as emphasized with comic solemnity by the original soundtrack.

On their arrival, they get a chilly reception – Govend even finds the door locked to her accommodation deprived of any heating. As for Baran, he finds rows of photos and the hats of his predecessors waiting for him, together with the local baron, a nasty piece of work by the name of Azzi Aga who, with his henchmen, lays down the law in the village, while in the surrounding maquis, female fighters purse their armed struggle against these archaic (and, of course, misogynous) figureheads of authority who are replacing order by terror.

This doesn't affect for a moment the colourful lightness of this film treated as an exotic tale. While the chords of a heartrending blues are struck, our two likeable characters in a new Kurdistan are close to giving in, due to the villagers' reticence to accept the young unmarried woman and the sheriff who has the audacity to want to re-establish the justice manipulated with all impunity by Azzi Aga. This shared adversity between the two new arrivals nevertheless initiates a dialogue; but in order for another kind of harmony, that of the banjo-guitar in Delivrance, to win out over the cacophony of the old chaos, the final face-to-face, as in any good western, will have to be radical.

(Translated from French)

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