Dayan’s Baghdad epic: end of a community

 Daniel Gad plays the lead character in Nissim Dayan’s new film

 The Jewish community of Iraq is the main protagonist of “Farewell Baghdad” (also known as ‘The Dove Flyer’). Nissim Dayan’s film with its  dialogue in Iraqi-Jewish Arabic is always interesting, although a bit scrappy, concludes Uri Klein in this Haaretz review.

Farewell Baghdad Directed by Nissim Dayan;
written by Nissim Dayan, Eli Amir, based on the novel by Eli Amir; with
Daniel Gad, Igal Naor, Ahuva Keren, Uri Gavriel, Menashe Noy, Yasmin
Ayun, Ron Shahar, Mira Awad, Makram Khoury

In “Farewell
Baghdad,” director Nissim Dayan has undertaken an especially difficult
task: not only to translate Israeli author Eli Amir’s novel, with its
many plot lines and characters, to the screen, but to portray the end of
an entire Jewish community – Iraqi Jewry, once the most ancient Jewish
community of all. The fact that he pulls this off, despite certain
weaknesses in the screenplay and film, is an admirable feat.

In many
ways, “Farewell Baghdad” is one of the most presumptuous Israeli
pictures ever made, and I say this as a compliment. Few Israeli films to
date have attempted an epic broadness; most, even those set in some
remote past or location, have focused on a private story and used it as
the basis for a broader statement about the surrounding collective.

 “Farewell Baghdad” does have a main character, 15-year-old Kabi, the son
of a respected Jewish-Iraqi family. But the main protagonist is the
community itself, out of which the movie projects specific characters
and story lines. The fact that Dayan’s film goes from the collective to
the individual instead of the other way around is both the source of its
strength and the cause of certain flaws within it.

The year is
1950. Zionist activists within the Baghdadi Jewish community are
persecuted by the Iraqi authorities, imprisoned and even hanged.
Communists are likewise in the regime’s crosshairs. The Jewish
community, which has deep social, cultural and economic roots in the
country, is under constant threat of pogroms, and although some among
them refuse to admit it, the Jews of Iraq become increasingly aware that
their world is coming to an end.

What sets the plot in motion is
the arrest of Kabi’s uncle, a journalist who published an article
protesting against the authorities, and the efforts made by Kabi (Daniel
Gad) and Rachel (Yasmin Ayun), the uncle’s wife, to find him and have
him released with the help of a family friend, a Muslim lawyer (Ron
Shahar).

This story line allows Dayan to introduce a great many
characters representing the different parts of Jewish-Iraqi society at
this moment in its history, while also showing us Kabi’s own growing
involvement in the fateful predicaments his family and community face.

What
Dayan tries to do throughout “Farewell Baghdad” is impressive; the
result, however, does not meet his goals in full, stumbling between the
plot and the effort to put that plot in an analytical historical
context. We are aware of the ideological factions within the Jewish
community: there are Zionists, anti-Zionists, communists (who are also
opposed to the Zionist vision), and some who don’t belong to any of
these groups and ignore what is about to happen.

 The film, however, does
not give us enough historical and ideological background to understand
these differences, and it therefore seems at times like a patchwork of
scraps – scraps of ideas, scraps of plot, scraps of historical
information. These do not always fit together well and even generate a
certain amount of vagueness and confusion.

 There are many lovely,
impressive scenes, and Dayan puts his large and talented cast to
skillful use; but the movie’s components seem at times to be superior to
the whole they comprise, although that whole never stops being
interesting.

“Farewell Baghdad” is only the fourth long feature
film that Dayan has directed. His small oeuvre and 30-year absence from
filmmaking (since “Gesher tzar me’od” in 1985) are one of Israeli
cinema’s most unfortunate missed opportunities, and his return to the
screen is a happy development that, I hope, will soon continue.

(…)

The style in which
the new movie is directed is correct and respectable; though a bit heavy
at times, it demonstrates throughout the knowledge, intelligence and
decency of the director, who is also a teacher and film critic. Perhaps
it was my earlier acquaintance with Dayan and his work that led me to
expect a more precise balance between the narrative, which sweeps us
into the movie, and the analytical level, which pulls us back from it.
That kind of balance would have exposed the dialectical nature of the
historical reality we see before us; expecting it is what caused me to
feel a certain disappointment with the result.

One of the best and
most courageous decisions Dayan made in the film was to have the
characters all speak Iraqi Arabic, which adds a distinctive flavor. The
movie also wisely avoids any hint of folklore, a problem that stumped
many previous Israeli films about Jewish communities in Arab countries.

Read article in full (Registration required) 

Farewell Baghdad (aka The Dove Flyer) will have a charity premiere at Cadogan Hall in London on 12 May.  Box Office: 0207 730 4500

The Dove Flyerfilm flies high

2 Comments

  • This day, a LARGE meeting of Jew haters will take place in BXL!
    Is it possible that history has not seen enough hatred and the consequences?
    sultana

    Reply
  • It is interesting to note that unhappiness and problems can generate works af great interest
    As we grow older we feel the need to tell our story and that of our community
    Neitch says anything that does not kill you, makes a man out of you
    You know that if I look back on all the unhappiness we jews havE suffered, I think we are STRONGER NOT NECESSAILY WISER
    SULTANA

    Reply

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