You Can Be Clark Kent
There's almost always something special about a director's early films, as the charm comes from its inherent rawness, and perhaps willingness to take greater risks to get something finished. And this lack of experience at the helm also meant an appeal that audiences would be more forgiving, and open their hearts out in giving the film a chance. The magnificence is, when it works, like Bekas, you're going to embrace it wholeheartedly and completely.
Writer-director Karzan Kader draws deep from his own personal experiences of having to escape Kurdistan, Iraq as a young kid in the 90s, to come up with Bekas, a road trip tale of hope, following two orphaned boys Dana (Sarwar Fazil) and younger brother Zana (Zamand Taha), who have to fend for themselves at every corner and turn, growing up under harsh circumstances with little adult supervision. They have to rely on their street smarts, brotherly love and loyalty to each other to get themselves through day by day, earning their keep as shoe shiners for pittance, and homelessness meant sleeping out in the open at any random, but available rooftops.
And you would be mistaken to think that Kader would take the easy route out and flood his film with plenty of melodrama, to tug at your heartstrings at the plight of the boys. Instead, he fills his narrative with plenty of anecdotes and shenanigans that the two boys get into, which often result in either one, or both, being at the wrong end of a slap, ear pull, or in terms of greater insult, the slipper. But this is a story about growing up, and growing a hide that's thick to ensure survival, that the boys will have you in stiches most times when they get to the central plot device - of getting out of their predicament, and relying on any of their own means possible to get to America, and meet their idol Superman, whom they hope to enlist in a fight against Saddam Hussein, and to ressurect their dead parents.
Despite being non-actors, both boys Dana and Zana are set to charm your socks off with their banter, sibling rivalry, and inevitably, love. Kader knows when to push the right buttons in crafting scenes that will make you root for them to escape impossible situations, or to cheer them on as they encounter adversity after adversity in getting to their eventual destination, which is "just miles away" on a map that looks more like one from a discarded Risk board game. Anyone who thought Quvenzhane Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild, should take a look at these two boys, who are naturals despite their penchant to raise their voice most of the time. Whether or not it's Dana finding first love, or Zana being disappointed time and again by his older brother, these two boys put on a masterclass performance that makes your heart go out to them.
Filmed on location, the cinematography is excellent, capturing scenes seldom seen by many unless you've travelled to the region. And there's no more to ask for when the visuals have aural accompaniment that accentuated mood to provide that extra dimension of feelings. Through a road trip, Kader manages to link scenes up perfectly, as the boys go from episode to episode atop their donkey, and every other conceivable mode of transport from cars to trucks, to evade detection and capture as they pass through guarded borders. Whether or not they reach their destination, would be immaterial by the time the story ends, painting a bigger picture of hope and love, narrative themes which are far more powerful than the fictional deity they seek to locate in a foreign land, whom they probably found in each other.
Bekas is one fine film set in the Middle East, such as Son of Babylon, that will endear. A definite recommendation!
Bekas opens in cinemas from 28 Feb 2013, as part of The Picturehouse Selection.