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REVISITED: Our River... Our Sky - Maysoon Pachachi’s harrowing glimpse of daily life in 2006 Baghdad

Wednesday 12 July 2023, by Abla Kandalaft, carrie, Viewing Pleasure

Ahead of its UK release in the Autumn, here’s our review of Our River…Our Sky (aka Kulshi Makoo in Arabic), Iraqi filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi’s most recent feature film.

Enjoy your summer, everyone!

Set in Baghdad in 2006, specifically between Christmas and the Adha Eid, the film tells the stories of ordinary Iraqis going about their daily business against a backdrop of random bombings and kidnappings that plagued the country following the American-led invasion. The central character around whom other lives unfold is single mother and writer Sara, whose bread and butter is writing CVs. We follow her, unable to write her novel, doing the school run, increasingly losing hope of a better future. Abu Haider drowns his despair in alcohol, while his son is increasingly at risk of being co-opted by sectarian violence, Tamara escapes into music and fashion, Mona is pregnant but pines for her other children from a previous marriage, Yahya debates whether or not to stay in his job... 2006 was a particularly low point for Iraq, three years after the invasion, the US-imposed government had fostered sectarian divisions and violence was commonplace. The film was shot mostly in Baghdad, with Iraqi actors now mostly living in various European countries, and is a rare and much needed depiction of the impact of the invasion and its consequences on Iraqis.

Pachachi’s patchwork of daily life in 2006 Baghdad gets the audience up close and personal with its ordinary citizens, living their lives, working, resigning, going to school, flirting online, bringing home like nothing else the sheer cataclysmic upheaval wreaked on their lives by the seismic repercussions and outcomes of the invasion. Sara, Djila, Ahmed and many others are trying to get on with their mundane routines amidst kidnappings and random slaughter. During a post-screening Q&A, Maysoon, who lives in London, brought up the way in which media reporting of the "war" back then would depict satellite images, wide shots of smoking buildings and tanks crawling through desert landscapes, at no point showing the nitty gritty of the reality on the ground. Exposing how people that are fundamentally so similar to UK audiences are made to cope with such a reality should stir the hearts of an international audience that’s so often encouraged to dehumanise the victims of these endeavours.

The film also acts as a love letter to Baghdad and Iraq as a whole. Maysoon centres intellect, culture and literacy. Sara would love to exploit her PhD in English Literature, the kids play-act scenes from old plays... Reminding us that the country has a proud literary and artistic history, which, despite the essentials of daily life being torn apart, still has its place. Most importantly, the film champions those Iraqis who’ve stayed to rebuild their country, the young people who’ve shown so much resilience and ability to create something new. Let’s not forget that the country was subjected to another wave of barbarism with Isis running wild a few years later. However, Maysoon injected much needed hope when she described her 2019 visit to Baghdad, when she shot the film. She’d arrived only to be met by huge creativity, hustle and bustle, busy cafes and wild wedding parties.

The film will be released on 22 September 2023.

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