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Zagros – Young Critics Workshop

Zagros (Sahim Omar Kalifa, 2017)

A man who just as easily gives tenderness with one hand and terror with the other: the fingers of his left hand lightly brush the eyes shut, as his right—gripping tightly onto the hilt of a knife—performs a fatal thrust of the blade.

Sahim Omar Kalifa’s Zagros (2017) follows a Kurdish shepherd’s attempts to reunite with his wife, who—having been accused of infidelity and threatened by his family— runs off to Belgium with their daughter. Scenes like the one described above, seem constructed to humanize Zagros (Feyyaz Duman) in spite of his misdeeds. Rather than settling for a flat, hateful character, the film tries to complicate its treatment of him. And so as the soundscape fills with the last dying breaths—in testament to the horror he has just committed—the visuals hone in instead on his teary-eyed, deeply distraught face. Though built around this interplay between it’s eponymous protagonist as both vicious culprit and wretched victim of circumstance, Zagros doesn’t quite succeed in negotiating this delicate emotional balance.

Glancing over a range of different issues—e.g. illegal immigration, asylum processes, sexual violence, patriarchal traditions etc.—Zagros is ambitious in its scope. It is this multiplicity of messages that ultimately works against the film. Instead of an immersion into the emotional complexity that such a story offers, the film stays in this cerebral layer as we leapfrog from one topic to another. Thinking, but not quite feeling.