Wednesday, August 06, 2014


Bekas is a Kurdish word that's variously translated as orphans, complete loneliness, parentless. It's all of those things. It's also the title of a slightly odd but quite engaging movie about two brothers who, after seeing part of the film Superman in their home village, decide to go to America and meet Superman. Perhaps even ask him to come back to their home country and kill Saddam Hussein (who at the time of the movie's story, was causing havoc in Kurdistan).

The orphaned brothers are not very old. Ten-year-old Dana (Sarwar Fazil) has a bit of a romance going on with a girl who is somewhat ambivalent towards him (it's never going to work, but he doesn't know that), and is the ideas man. The younger one, Zana (Zamand Taha), is six or seven, strident, energetic, optimistic, seldom put down for more than a moment - a considerable feat in Kurdistan, where any adult male (in fact, any older male, including your brother) is likely to beat you at the drop of a hat, often with the least provocation. It's not a place for wimps.

The boys shine shoes for a living, and naturally struggle to make ends meet. In their attempts to walk or ride to America (which in their minds is only a few inches across the map and therefore can't be far away) they run into various troubles, are separated, joined up again and nearly killed. It's a grim life made bearable only by keeping your own spirits up. No one else will do it for you.

The film has some humour, but in general there's little understatement of the stark poverty the boys live in. They wear the same clothes day in and out, don't appear to eat very often, and even have to berate customers to get them to pay the proper price for their shoeshining. A few older people help them at times, but for the most part they're on their own. And at journey's end, things don't seem to have made a lot of progress, though at least they're out of Saddam's clutches, for the time being.

The cast is mostly amateur, which means that people turn up here who would never appear on screen otherwise, their faces marked in many cases with the sheer difficulties of life. The two boys are good-looking, and convey all the emotion needed in their roles. Taha has a voice that would kill a goat a twenty paces - some viewers have felt he has only one vocal mode: full-bore shouting. He may be excused in this because of the sheer need his character has to be heard when so many ears around him are deaf to his cries.

The film was written and directed by Karzan Kader, and is based on his own story of escape from Kurdistan. He had previously made a short film version of it; this full-length one has no feeling of being expanded for the sake of it.

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