When a movie comes out of Iraq, it's a must see if only because there are so few that do. But the critically acclaimed Qaratina is a movie that holds its own.
Written and directed by Iraqi native Oday Rasheed, the movie follows the life of a hit-man over a period of a week and explores his relationship with a dysfunctional family, who live downstairs from him. And while it is set in present-day, post-occupation Iraq, the war is not a central theme of the movie, though its effects are felt all around.
Rasheed says the hit-man, "is a new figure in Iraqi society." This psychological drama explores how the job of a hit-man is gaining notoriety in a country that may collectively be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, but how these men function in the "new" Iraq is telling, not just of the current state of Iraqi society, but how survival can push man into dark areas of his psyche. The hit-man mechanically plots through each task, but when the next name on his list is a childhood friend, it is then we come understand more, the man, then just his chosen occupation.
Equally disturbed is the family who lives downstairs. The central figure is the step-mother, a young wife stuck in bad marriage to a patriarchal figure many years her senior. She is the main care-giver to her step children. The eldest, a girl of high school age has been raped and has not spoken since the attack. The son, struggles with the yearning of going to school, but is instead forced to shine shoes in front of the electuary school filled with kids his age. The father demands respect from some assumed position of authority, though he does nothing to garner it, barks orders in a show of strength, but buckles in the face of confrontation though the movie. In one scene, this educated man resorts to an exotic exorcism as means to reach out to his muted daughter, rather to confront the trauma she is dealing with. The family recognizes the insanity in this move, leading to more tension between the husband and wife, and monumental decision that comes towards the end of the movie.
Through the struggles of daily life of these people, despite their special circumstances, we come to learn that our inner demons are same throughout the world, even if played out in dramatically different contexts. One of the themes of the movie says Rasheed is to deal with the role of women in Iraqi society. The biggest conflict in this hapless marriage is played out by the step-mother, who is not satisfied on many levels, not least of which is sexually - a theme explicitly explored in the film, most obviously through the affair she carries on with the hit-man - yet another layer to this psychological drama. Rasheed says that exploring such themes is important - as it shows how, though constrained by culture and custom, women constantly finds ways to assert themselves and to negotiate power.
There is no plot per se with regards to Qarantina, Rasheed's second major film. Rather it introduces elements in the lives of these people and asks the viewer to follow along, forcing them to realize that although the context may be different, people all over the world face the same high and lows. Life - as it is - may be more predictable than we think. But the film isn't. Qaratina takes bold steps to explore controversial theme in Iraqi culture and despite some of their absurdities, everyone collective seems to be at fault.