Leaving Baghdad

This entry is part 18 of 30 in the series Raindance 2011

Released: 2010
Director: Koutaiba Al-Janabi

Starring: Sadik Al Attar


A harrowing story of guilt in Saddam’s Iraq

Leaving Baghdad is the debut feature of London-based Iraqi, Koutaiba Al-Janabi and is a deeply personal and emotive examination of one individual’s complicity in the worst excesses of the Hussein period.

Whenever an evil and murderous government is overthrown those who are seen as the guilty parties are hunted down in order to face punishment.  Life moves on, the old order is condemned and many are quick to claim that they had always opposed the actions of the state.  In reality there are always lots of people who, in their own way, had been part of the regime, even if not at the very heart of it.

Sadiq has been Saddam Hussein’s personal cameraman for many years.  He has filmed the President and his family on special occasions and portrays a kind, benevolent leader.  He has also recorded beatings, torture and executions.  The actions of his son, an opponent of the regime, have forced Sadiq to leave Baghdad and travel across Europe to join his wife in London.  As he journeys from country to country he is pursued by Iraqi secret police who want to prevent evidence of Saddam’s brutality reaching the wider world.  While on trains, buses and in cars Sadiq writes a series of letters to his son, first accusatory then increasingly guilt-ridden about the horrors he has witnessed and been party to.

If I’m brutally honest I wasn’t entirely convinced by Sadiq’s story.  At times the action was slow and soporific and Sadiq seems to spend a lot of time on the phone or wandering aimlessly around the streets of various cities.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate the work of the director – this was an emotional and intimate work from Al-Janabi who lost his father to the Hussein regime.  From the reaction of members of the Iraqi community who attended the screening at Raindance it touched the hearts of those with first hand knowledge of life in Iraq.  Their reaction to this film is so much more important than mine.

Al-Janabi told me that Leaving Baghdad has resonance further afield than the Middle East.  It’s striking how footage of men being lined up by a pit and executed is similar to images of the Holocaust.  The concept and heart of this film are absolutely beautiful and it is important that this story is told.

The film is a fictional account but uses genuine footage provided by the Iraqi Memory Foundation.  Several of these videos are absolutely horrific – there are scenes of torture, beatings and beheading.  Leaving Baghdad is not easy, but as with all explorations of the most difficult periods in history it is vitally important that we do steel ourselves to watch it.  This is a brutally honest and shocking film and a heart-felt tribute to all those affected by Saddam’s term in power.

Previous and next posts in this series:<< Interview – Leaving Baghdad Director, Koutaiba Al-JanabiBonsai >>
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