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Between Turkey, Iran and Iraq: My Sweet Pepperland –

pepperlandIt’s perhaps the last thing we expect from the Middle East, a gun-slinging western. Yet director Hiner Saleem is steadfast over how the developing area for his liebarted Kurdistan echoes mid-west America, being under construction, somewhat lawless, run on conflicting ideas of honour by men with guns. This French-German co-production is one of this year’s entry in Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’ section. The plot follows Baran, once a Kurdish independence hero, who begins work as sheriff in a town where smuggling is a way of life. No longer feeling useful now the struggle for peace is over and frustrated at the proud manner in which the new Kurdish government conduct public executions “We can have no democracy without security and we can have no security without punishment” Baran considers quitting policing, but instead takes a station in a small valley, at the intersection of Iran, Turkey, and Iraq. Here rockabilly music is picked up on the radio and via this tool, the director makes a slanted reference not just to the westerns we are traditionally used to, but to the ideas of Kurdistan we might also be used to. Neither are immovable truths and Saleem makes the western his own here, in a  territory which is right at the heart of illegal drug, medication and alcohol trafficking and which is in all, lawless.

Thus Baran the new sheriff meets Aga Azzi, the steely, corrupt tribal chief of the area but refuses to cower before him. He remains an outsider and meets Govend, the village school teacher, who is also rejected by the villagers and presents a threat to Azzi. Like Baran, she represents another law, that of the young and autonomous Kurdish state, because she is a modern woman. Govend, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, is vulnerable as an unmarried woman who has come to work as the teacher in the newly-opened school despite objections from her her twelve brothers. The clip at the very bottom here reveals the humour in the film that speaks of survival, in the younger generations.