Judge Joel Pearce was the zero kilometre champ of his high school track team. That's not as easy as it sounds.
A road comedy from one of the most serious corners of the world.
Part war film, part family drama, part road comedy, Kilometre Zero never really figures out what it wants to be. Coming out of such a war-torn country, it seems strangely appropriate. For most North American viewers, however, it will be a fairly perplexing experience.
Ako (Nazmi Kirik) is a Kurdish soldier who is thoroughly unenthusiastic about his responsibilities. He would rather escape the country with his gorgeous wife, Selma (Belcim Bilgin), and start a new life. Through a series of misfortunes, Ako ends up partnered with an Arab taxi driver, ordered to deliver a dead body to the other side of the country. The two men hate each other out of obligation, though they quickly begin to respect one another.
We live in a culture that is fascinated, even obsessed, with violence. After watching Kilometre Zero, our obsession could come from how separated most of us are to violence most of the time. The way director Hiner Saleem (Vodka Lemon) approaches the horrific violence in Kilometre Zero is both surreal and baffling for a North American audience. If an American director created a story with this much Iraqi war violence, each act would be shocking and horrifying. Here, though, Saleem keeps his camera so far away from the events that we can't be sure how to take it. Is it supposed to be shocking? Is is supposed to be funny? Galvanizing? After finishing the whole film, I have no clue how I'm meant to respond to it.
Certainly, the long takes require some getting used to. Each frame is reminiscent of a stage production, as Saleem uses the movement of the characters in the frame to impact our understanding of the scene, rather than the movement of the camera, as we've become accustomed. This style has a couple effects. First, it keeps us strangely distanced from the action. We see lines of people being executed and a man being tortured by soldiers. None of it is as unsettling as it should be, though. These things are approached as commonplace, almost mundane. Second, the lack of motion creates a very deliberate pace. Even when bombs are exploding all around the characters, it's impossible to reach any level of excitement. I think this is intentional, though I'm not sure it's the best approach. Even if Salaam didn't want to make his film thrilling or exciting, there would have been a number of ways to make it more accessible to a wide audience. Even though a story of Iraq from an Iraqi perspective will appeal to a number of North Americans, few will find Kilometre Zero engaging enough to hold their interest for the required 90 minutes.
For those genuinely interested in international film, the transfer quality of Kilometre Zero will come as a pleasant surprise. The film looks great, even on a progressive display. While it wasn't filmed on the best stock, this is a very attractive transfer. The color and detail levels are both quite strong. The sound is also good, though it has the flatness normally associated with stereo tracks. There aren't many special features on the disc, though it is accompanied by a discussion guide in PDF format on the DVD. If you are using this film in an education setting, the discussion guide would have some value. It does contain some director statements as well, so fans of the film will want to check it out.
Ultimately, I wish I had more to say about Kilometre Zero. It is a fascinating film with an important message, even if it does feel completely strange to my North American sensibilities. Those who are willing to step far outside the normal bounds of film entertainment, however, will probably be impressed by this strange, unique little film. This judge, however, needs to send it back to its home country for a more thorough trial. I am certainly grateful that smaller studios like First Run Features are making these films available to us.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Discussion Guide
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