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Review: Unique Kurdish Western, ‘My Sweet Pepper Land’

SCREENING exclusively at Cinema Nova is the new Kurdish film, My Sweet Pepper Land, an intriguing Western-style film set near the borders of Turkey and Iran. Hieu Chau has the review.

Rarely is Australia afforded the chance to theatrically screen Kurdish cinema so when the opportunity to see one from the region arises, it’s sure to be something particularly special.

Beginning an exclusive run soon at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova is My Sweet Pepper Land, a new Kurdish film by director Hiner Saleem that commands attention with its Western-inspired story and vastly engrossing landscape.

Since screening at last year’s Cannes Film Festival under the Un Certain Regard category (a category normally reserved for unusually different or inventive films), My Sweet Pepper Land has built a modest reputation amongst festival-goers, having toured across the world and generating a bit of buzz in the foreign film community.

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Set near the borders of Iran and Turkey, a Kurdish independence war hero, Baran (Korkmaz Arslan), is re-assigned from his post in the big city to maintain order as a police figure at a lawless village in the mountains. Drugs and arms trafficking is rife in the area with the village’s local kingpin (Tarik Akreyi) keeping the operation running smoothly. Meanwhile, Govend (Golshifteh Farahani), a young woman who teaches at the village’s new school starts getting harassed by the local kingpin’s men, forcing Baran to take action.

My Sweet Pepper Land – named after the local bar in the village – is a terrific film and is as accomplished as any Western made in America or otherwise. Relying on tropes established by the Western – the righteous gunslinger, the lawless bandit and damsel-in-distress – the film culturally appropriates these to fit within the context of recent Kurdish history, adding some value of social commentary on director Saleem’s part. In some ways, My Sweet Pepper Land can perhaps be interpreted as a snapshot of what the Kurdish region is like today after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

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While the film might appear to be relatively straightforward in its narrative, the upside to the film’s linearity and directness can also be considered one of its strengths.

My Sweet Pepper Land engages an audience unfamiliar with Kurdish film or the recent history surrounding the region by adding an element of curiosity and wonderment within the region. It fascinates and compels the audience, all of which is deftly brought out by the film’s gorgeously stark cinematography and hypnotically stirring soundtrack (the film sees Govend play a hang drum, a unique instrument which becomes an anthem, of sorts, for the film).

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Despite the film’s serious qualities, however, it has been unusually touted as a comedy as well. While there are flashes of dark comedy peppered throughout (no pun intended), particularly early in the film, these comedic moments feel completely unnecessary given the story that is being told, hindering the film in the process.

Admirably directed with competently fine performances from its core cast, My Sweet Pepper Land is a bewitching film and an unlikely yet welcoming surprise. It’s familiar and foreign all at the same time, making Saleem’s Western all the more refreshing and unique.

My Sweet Pepper Land will screen exclusively at Cinema Nova in Carlton beginning May 22.

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Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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