East End Film Festival: House Without Roof

House Without Roof
House Without Roof
Directed by Soleen Yusef
Starring Mina Sadic, Sasun Sayan, Murat Seven, Wedad Sabri, Zirek, Hossein Hasan, Hussein Hassan and Uwe Preuss
Screening at EEFF April 15th, 2018

by Bernie C Byrnes

House Without Roof is a beautiful film. I wanted to love it – I almost did love it. The backdrop is breathtaking and kudos to Stephan Burchardt for making each shot look amazing. The acting is patchy but with first class performances from the main characters and, unexpectedly, a strong female lead.

The film follows siblings Liya, Jan and Alan as they strive to fulfill their mother`s last wish to bury her in her home village in Iraq. Not only do their Kurdish relatives who are against it thwart them, but they also have to negotiate the minefield of their now complex adult relationships with each other.

Small domestic squabbles are woven into a horrendous political landscape. Background characters are still missing from the Anfal genocide, part of the destruction of Kurdish villages during the Iraqi Arabization campaign that killed between 50,000 and 182,000 Kurds. Part of a campaign that destroyed approximately 4,500 Kurdish and at least 31 Assyrian Christian villages in areas of northern Iraq and displaced at least a million of the country’s estimated 3.5 million Kurdish population.

The film’s immediate environment is the second Northern Iraq offensive, when ISIL conquered large areas of Nineveh province. IS militants perpetrated the Sinjar massacre, killing 2,000 Yazidi men and taking Yazidi women into slavery, leading to a mass exodus of Yazidi residents. According to a UN report, 5,000 Yazidi civilians were killed during ISIL’s August offensive.

Powerful stuff. So why didn’t I love it? The writing is lovely in places. One memorable scene has Jan carrying a shepherd on his back who tells him: ‘Everyone’s life story is made up of these same things: there is a bunch of love, an even bigger bunch of fear, disappointment, pain…’ The script is undeniably poignant in places but it’s flawed. There is too much talking. This film is begging to be more silent. The juxtaposition of trivia against terror is a good game-plan but House Without Roof just doesn’t quite pull it off.

And it’s too long. Maybe it’s a cultural thing – I have been spoon-fed so many Hollywood blockbusters that I’ve grown to expect more pace. That said, a judicious bit of cutting would definitely have got this film the extra star it really deserves.


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