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TORONTO 2017 Contemporary World Cinema

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The Journey: Exploring the reality behind terrorism


- TORONTO 2017: With his new film, Mohamed Al-Daradji hasn’t aimed to make another movie that rails against terrorism, but rather explores what drives a woman down that path

The Journey: Exploring the reality behind terrorism
Ameer Jabarah and Zahraa Ghandour in The Journey

In 2006, Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji garnered international attention with his debut feature, Ahlaam. Four years later, his second fiction film, Son of Babylon [+see also:
film profile
 (2010), was awarded at Berlin, Edinburgh, Karlovy Vary and Tallinn. His latest effort, The Journey [+see also:
interview: Mohamed Al-Daradji
film profile
, has had its world premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival.

On 30 December 2006, the first day of Eid al-Adha – the Feast of the Sacrifice, one of the holiest Muslim holidays – Baghdad is celebrating the reopening of its train station. Sara (Zahraa Ghandour) enters the station intent on carrying out a suicide bombing. She seems a little hesitant to pull the trigger, but is still determined to follow through. An awkward encounter with Salam (Ameer Jabarah), an extremely flirtatious and talkative salesman, will stall her plans. After a series of events, Salam ends up as Sara’s hostage, and he tries to change her mind. But is Sara willing to listen?

The story of The Journey, which Al-Daradji co-penned with his regular co-producer, Isabelle Stead, is set exclusively in Baghdad train station. Using only this limited space, the director succeeds in incorporating every aspect that made up Iraqi society at that turning point, from devout believers to modernists, from small-time crooks and businessmen to poor children, and from musicians and frightened citizens to austere American soldiers. This iconography also mirrors the images of both heroes. Salam is an opportunist who benefits from his compatriots’ misery, but he’s otherwise harmless and merely trying to survive. On the other hand, Sara is a believer; she is not willing to betray her religion or her ideals for anything, and she is ready to “purify” the site and bring justice. This odd pairing demonstrates the inner conflict in a society that is already troubled and torn apart. Al-Daradji lightens the tension through small vignettes that pepper the main story, although everything remains extremely serious.

A teenage female suicide bomber handed herself in to a police station minutes before the explosion. As a punishment, she was dragged out nude and faced public humiliation. That shocking real-life event was what inspired Al-Daradji. Through Sara’s story, he wants to explore the female perspective of these extreme acts. She is a silent and dedicated heroine who has nothing to lose, an almost invisible target whom no one suspects or wants to ask about her intentions. She is nervous but still maintains her inner peace, resulting in a rather troubling portrait of a terrorist that is hard to condense into one single point of view. The Journey does not focus on criticising acts of terrorism, as it is more important to outline the profile of a woman who decides to sacrifice her life while following that path. The reason behind her decision is most likely to be found there.

The Journey is an Iraqi-British-French-Qatari-Dutch co-production by Mohamed Al-Daradji (Iraqi Independent Film Centre) and Isabelle Stead (Human Film), with Lionceau Films and the support of the CNC’s World Cinema Support, the Doha Film InstituteAFAC and the Netherlands Film Fund. Berlin-based company Picture Tree International is handling the world sales.

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