Directed by Koutaiba Al Janabi. Iraq. United Arab Emirates. UK. 2010.

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Leaving Baghdad is a feature film by the Iraqi filmmaker Koutaiba Al Janabi, who lives in London. He studied filmmaking in the Academy of Drama and Cinema in Budapest and made several short films often about the life of people living in exile. Shorts like The Train, Still Life and Wasteland. Shot in a minimal style with not much narrative, but strong characterization, a created atmosphere that sticks in your mind  and a vivid eye for meaningful detail. Leaving Baghdad is a gripping story of a cinematographer Sadik ( Sadik Al Attar),who used to be the personal cameraman of Saddam Hussein. He is asked to film all the official events round the Iraqi leader, but eventually he ends up filming the tortures and sadistic games this power mad dictator demanded. We follow the man Sadik from close range, the whole film is seen from his point of view. He is played by the non actor Sadik Al Attar and he does this in a very convincing and real way. Often he is the only character in the scene, and Al -Janabi manages to keep the attention of the viewer from the beginning to the end. An impressive achievement.

Sadik’s  aim is to go to London, but he has no money and first he ends up in Budapest. Here he meets other Iraqi’s in the street and he has to deal with obscure men who ask 5,000 dollars to falsify his passport and promise him to go to London. Now and then short flashbacks of the Saddam tortures flash through his mind. Very briefly and effectively  used in the film and never with the aim to sensationalize. Another strong point of Leaving Baghdad is the way the film is shot on HD in a crisp and involving way. It comes as no surprise that Al -Janabi is not only the director but also the director of photography in this feature. Shot on a shoestring, but you don’t notice that at all.

In the beginning we see some shots of street life in Baghdad, shot after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Mainly old ramshackle cars in the streets, and it is a pity we don’t see a bit more of café’s ,shops, markets, houses from inside to get more of a sense  how life really is like in Baghdad.

Sadik, who looks very serious and slightly tormented, has to go to Budapest  in order to get a visa and travel then to London. At the end of the film he ends up in a dilapidated house in the country near a farm. When he first enters the house there is a great Haneke (Cach) like sense of suspense, any time you expect something to happen. The ending comes as a shock, but that this strong and focused film will end badly you could sense during the entire film. In the credits Koutaiba Al -Janabi dedicates the film to his late father, this gives the film even more value and depth.

So far Leaving Baghdad has been elected for the prestigious Dubai International Film Festival and had a positive review in Screen International.

Jaap Mees
(editor Skrien, Dutch film magazine)

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