San Marcos filmmaker Jano Rosebiani has two new films about Kurds — "Chaplin of the Mountains" and "One Candle, Two Candles," both of which open in Los Angeles this week, but to quite different effect.
In "Chaplin of the Mountains," the Kurdish-French Nazé (Estelle Bajou) is unsuccessful in her genealogical expedition to locate her mother's war-torn village. She decides to tag along with two Americans, David (Zack Gold) and Alan (Bennet Viso), on their quixotic quest to screen Charlie Chaplin films in remote villages.
At its best, the film seems as dreary a travelogue as that Nia Vardalos vehicle "My Life in Ruins." At its worst, "Chaplin of the Mountains" feels like an overambitious film-school thesis with superfluous political and philosophical posturing.
Characters vacuously reel off references to "Saddam," "chemical attack," "genocide" and "mass grave" as some sort of clumsy shorthand for eliciting liberal guilt. They prove to be little more than one-dimensional figures that function solely to deliver the director's voice, and with its focus on the diaspora, the film reduces the Kurds themselves to mere scenery.
Rosebiani's irrational characterizations are better suited to the screwball comedy "One Candle, Two Candles," the superior of the two films. Despite fielding romantic interest from artist Botan (Perwer Tariq), Viyan (Katrin Ender) must marry the much older Haji Hemmo (Enwer Shekhan), as per the arrangement made by her father.
The filmmaker's pedestrian exposition rears its ugly head with the raisonneur Dilovan (Murad Miqdad), whose only purpose in the narrative is to identify and introduce cartoonish characters to Botan and, by extension, to the viewers.
The film does provide its amusements: the single-cell local jail with its practically revolving door, the lovelorn dimwit stealing shoes at the mosque in an attempt to jump-start a dowry fund. Still, the filmmaking has its shortcomings. Rosebiani splices the jarring sight of Haji subjugating Viyan into the midst of frivolous pleasantries with no regard for the drastic tone shift.
Without the distraction of expats here, though, "One Candle, Two Candles" proves worthwhile at least as a cultural curio. Many characters — especially the women — seem to harbor Western values yet must succumb to societal pressure, keep up their Kurdish appearances and follow through with fruitless arranged marriages.
'Chaplin of the Mountains'
No MPAA rating; in English
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood
'One Candle, Two Candles'
No MPAA rating; in Kurdish with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes