My Sweet Pepper Land
- English subtitles
It’s not for nothing that My Sweet Pepper Land won the Achievement in Directing Award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. This French/German/Kurdish production by director Hiner Saleem is stunning in its visuals, music and narrative, and the acting by Golshifteh Farahani and Korkmaz Aslan, playing the idealistic Govend and Baran, is remarkable.
The political and romantic drama is set against the background of Kurdistan’s newfound independence after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Following years of brutal war, the Iraqi Kurds now struggle to build their fledgling nation. Self-proclaimed officers and judges valiantly strive to create a democracy and a rule of law. But that’s no easy feat, as is made painfully clear in the opening scene of the film, in which a condemned man is led to an improvised scaffold in the clumsiest possible way.
War veteran Baran looks upon it all in quiet contemplation. Dissatisfied by life as a police officer in the city, he decides to turn a new leaf and become the sheriff of a mountain village in a stateless area. There, he meets independent (and gorgeous) school teacher Govend, whose winsome and free-spirited attitude allow her to blatantly disregard all that her society expects of an unmarried woman. Both Baran and Govend are confronted with corruption, sabotage and threats to their lives. The village is run by villainous tribal chief Aga Azzi and his loutish cronies, who gallop the misty mountains on their horses wearing cowboy hats – or towels.
As the clash between the conservative mountain people and the progressive newcomers grows more and more grim, Baran refuses to be intimidated. With a gun in his pocket and Elvis on the soundtrack he faces up any challenge on his path.
A story with a hero, a villain and a beautiful woman, played out in a deserted and stateless area? Yep, that sounds like a Middle-East Western. But at the same time, My Sweet Pepper Land has a refined and dreamlike quality, especially when Govend releases her emotions through the melodies of the ‘hang’, a round steel percussion instrument she carries everywhere. All this combined makes My Sweet Pepper Land an absolute must-see.
Translated by Joost Broeren