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FILMS / REVIEWS Belgium / Netherlands / Iraq

Review: Baghdad Messi


- Sahim Omar Kalifa pleads for the preservation of the Iraqi people’s lost dreams, depicting the singular trajectory of a football-crazy little boy who’ll do anything to keep his passion afloat

Review: Baghdad Messi
Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah, Atheer Adel and Zahraa Ghandour in Baghdad Messi

When you’re 11 years old and living in Baghdad, you can’t help but dream, even if it is all-out war. Sometimes you dream about football, Barcelona, Real Madrid and becoming the next Lionel Messi in the absence of any Messiah. In the town’s beat-up streets, clusters of kids kick a ball, raise their arms to the sky and cry out with joy, barely discouraged by the decimated buildings around them. As the Baghdadi population survives rather than thrives and vestiges of the world before the war accumulate with every passing scene, Hamoudi and his friends continue to believe in that little round ball and the life yet to come. And it’s the singular trajectory of this very young boy that’s explored by the Kurdish director living in Belgium Sahim Omar Kalifa in Baghdad Messi [+see also:
interview: Sahim Omar Kalifa
film profile
, a movie presented in a world premiere in the Ostend Film Festival.

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When gunfire breaks out on a street corner, Hamoudi is caught in the crossfire. He ends up losing a leg, his family stability, his town and his bearings. But there’s no way he’ll lose his passion. His worried mother protects him, his guilty father encourages him. Guilty, because Hamoudi’s father is a translator for an American security firm working with the rebels; he was there on the day of the attack, and it’s him, moreover, who took the injured young boy to hospital. Following this incident, the family is forced to leave Baghdad to take refuge in the home village of Hamoudi’s mother. But news travels fast. Not only is Hamoudi’s father a Shiite on Sunni land, his commitment to the occupying forces also goes down badly with the villagers.

Hamoudi’s dream resonates with that of the Iraqi people. How do you keep hope when everything inside of you and around you has been devastated, amputated and attacked? Sahim Omar Kalifa uses his protagonist’s journey to illustrate the suffering as well as the resilience of this country in this feature film shot in Iraq, which, despite sometimes taking shortcuts in its script, is dazzling in its authenticity, notably thanks to young Ahmed Mohamed Abdullah who injects all of his spontaneity, experience and passion into little Hamoudi. Through the seemingly straightforward tale of a young child who’s determined to live out his passion, Baghdad Messi also shines a light on Iraqi society in all its complexity as it grapples with this second Gulf War. The way in which Hamoudi’s city-educated parents struggle to gain acceptance for their marriage and for their choices when they’re forced to return to their homeland likewise highlights the fissures dividing the population and even tearing their way through families. Ultimately, the film lifts the veil on a broken country which is trying to rebuild as war wounds slowly begin to heal.

Baghdad Messi is produced in Belgium by A Team Productions, in co-production with Column Films (the Netherlands), 1080 Films (Belgium) and Mîtosfilm (Iraq). Due for release in Belgium on 29 March, this is the first film to which Belgian distributor The Searchers have committed themselves. International sales are entrusted to Wild Bunch.

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(Translated from French)

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