Film tip “Baghdad in my shadow”: migration between dreams and trauma

He will never forget what Tawfiq experienced in the dungeons of Saddam Hussein’s secret service. Not only this, his hands are also inscribed in Baghdad at that time. Like many other Iraqis, the aging poet, still awaiting success with Arabic poetry, began a new life in London. But even after decades of exile, the shadow of the past keeps coming back. Especially when one day he is called to the police station.

Taufeeq is not alone with his problems. At Cafe Abu Nawas he meets people who have experienced something similar. The popular meeting place for Iraqis in exile – in fact, former colonial power Great Britain is home to the largest Iraqi community overseas – is the focus of the drama. There are many leftists coming together who opposed the Ba’ath Party regime and are of little use to the growing religious influence in Iraq today. The British Isles become their new home, the freedom they enjoy, even if they don’t feel completely accepted. Mesopotamia, which they lost, became a tormentor and hope that they regularly witchcraft, sometimes ironically and self-deprecatingly.

Nephew becomes Islamist

Men and women share the experience of being a migrant. And yet the paths of those who could not have been more different also pass through there. For example execute. She hid in London to escape from her husband. This is a blessing. The gay IT tinkerer has been in the British capital lately. There too he shy away from outings. Taufeeq’s nephew is Naseer. Sometime back he grew into a staunch Islamist who hates everything Amal and Muhnad dream of. Taufeeq gets to the bottom of the matter and is confronted with the darker side of his biography. Meanwhile, a deadly dynamic takes its course.

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“Baghdad in My Shadow” is full of hints of a “different” Iraq. This is already clear from the title. Iraqi is a word in Arabic that translates as both shadow and memory. It is precisely this ambiguity that shapes the relationships many people in this film have with Iraq and its capital. Which also means that they feel torn between the conservative traditions of their native land and the individualistic London society.

dividing lines within the community

This is especially true for those three young heroes. Director and co-screenwriter Samir (that’s her stage name) positions them as symbolic figures or targets of everything in conservative (Arab) societies: contempt for free women, homosexuality and religious delusions. But even beyond them, astonishing contrasts and dividing lines can be seen at Café Abu Nawas.

It takes a while for the play to unfold in its full depth before the audience. Given the large number of events, the narrative has many connections and narratives to make sense of. Many leaps in time don’t make it easy. Because of the frequent change between gloomy and light-tempered – this also applies to the imagery – the audience has to keep changing when it comes to the atmosphere. In the end, although there is a coherent whole, it can sometimes seem a bit overloaded given the many aspects of the Iraqi community in Great Britain.

bridge between cultures

The message is as unmistakable as it is subtly packaged: this atmospherically dense, tense film, shot partly in Iraq, not only seeks to build bridges between Iraqis and their new center of life. but generally between cultures, especially in times of migration movements and widespread racism in many places.

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For Sameer, all this has a biographical dimension. The filmmaker was born in Baghdad in 1955 and has lived in Switzerland since the 1960s. In the documentary film “Iraqi Odyssey” he devoted himself to the history of his family, which were scattered around the world. In what he calls his “stateless humanistic” play, which often misuses the term “parallel society”, he continues to come up with things that haunt him like a shadow.

Information: “Baghdad in My Shadow” (Switzerland, Germany, UK 2019), a film by Sameer, Camera: Camera Ngo the Chau, with Haitham Abdulrazak, Zahra Ghandour, Muhanad Wasim Abbas, Maxim Mehmet and others, 105 minutes, with subtitles

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About the Author: Rusty Kemp

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