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Samir's 'Iraqi Odyssey' an unwieldy tale of his scattered family

Samir's 'Iraqi Odyssey' an unwieldy tale of his scattered family
A scene from "Iraqi Odyssey." (Cairo International Film Festival)

Iraqi-Swiss filmmaker Samir (né Samir Jamal Aldin) relates the story of three generations of his extended family — his grandfather, parents, six uncles and aunts, five siblings and 20 cousins — with the documentary "Iraqi Odyssey."

Most of them have scattered around the world in the last 50 years, prompting the filmmaker to borrow Homer's "Odyssey" — as well as Mario Camerini's movie adaptation, "Ulysses" — as a motif. Although he narrows the focus to the plights of an aunt in Auckland, New Zealand, an uncle in London, a half sister in Buffalo, N.Y., a cousin in Moscow, a cousin in Lausanne, Switzerland, and himself, the narrative gets unwieldy.

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In its meandering way, the film teaches the lessons of how Iraq and its people have for decades not been able to reach their full potential amid instability and internecine conflicts, and how idealist radicals eager for a revolution put blind faith in communism and were betrayed by the Soviet Union. But the film, which stretches toward three hours, is in dire need of organization and pruning.

With the mixing of the sprawling family tree with geopolitical imbroglios already proving daunting for viewers, the filmmaker exacerbates the confusion by eschewing a linear chronology. He splices in cultural signposts such as pop ditties and movie excerpts — some of which he previously directed — that come off as trivial, tedious and self-indulgent.

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"Iraqi Odyssey"

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 2 hours, 42 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.

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