Ahlaam (Dreams): Controversial Iraqi Film Plays in Iraq

Iraqi filmmaker Mohammed al-Daradji has finally released his movie “Ahlaam” (“Dreams”), a critical account of the last moments of Saddam Hussein’s regime, in Iraq.

“Ahlaam” centers on the lives of three people in a mental asylum after suffering for years under Saddam’s regime.

The movie premiered in Baghdad last year, and the director held additional screening for invited audiences in Baghdad before being given three public showings last week in Arbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The movie played in many international festivals and has finally come to Iraq, the helmer said, adding that until now the political situation in Iraq had been too risky to screen the movie.

Ahlaam, a young woman who witnesses the violent arrest of her fiance on their wedding day and Ali, a former soldier now shell-shocked American bombing, are patients in the asylum. Dr. Mehdi works at the institution, hoping for a free Iraq. The place is bombed during the 2003 U.S. invasion and their lives are thrown into turmoil.

The movie tracks the lives of the three in the wake of the bombings. Played by Acil Adel, the central character of Ahlaam escapes the hospital and has to negotiate the dangerous bomb-littered landscape of the Iraqi capital. She is raped, first by looters, and then by American soldiers.

Daradji had been living in exile in Europe to escape Saddam’s men when the war broke out. In 2003 he returned home to make a film about the plight of ordinary Iraqi people after the invasion. He shot “Ahlaam” in the streets of Baghdad in difficult conditions, which included curfews and electricity cuts. He and his crew were periodically detained by insurgents and the U.S. military.

The feature film was completed in 2004, and then played at international festivals around the world, including Cairo, Dubai, Carthage, Rotterdam, Munich, Moscow, New York, Seattle and Tokyo.

The movie has won many awards, including best Arabic film at Cairo Film Festival in 2005, special jury prize in the Arabe du Monde Cinema in Paris 2006 and Best Actor at Carthage, also in 2006.

At the moment, only one theater is open in Baghdad, showing B-grade movies while most cinema halls in country have been closed.