‘Paradise! Paradise!’ (‘Paradies! Paradies’): Graz Review

Kurdwin Ayub’s documentary on a family trip to her native Kurdistan premiered in a competitive section of Austria’s national film festival.

A home-movie travelogue that pulls off a tricky balancing act between the personal and political, Kurdwin Ayub’s Paradise! Paradise! (Paradies! Paradies!) provides invaluably topical snapshots of everyday life in today’s Kurdistan. Seldom far from international headlines, the much-contested territory straddling Turkey and Iraq is currently best known for its army’s heroic battles against the so-called Islamic State.

As a fresh and lively glimpse into the area provided by a young female filmmaker of middle-eastern origins — Ayub was born in Kurdistan in 1990 but immigrated to Vienna as a baby — the picture is guaranteed plentiful festival play over the coming months and could easily snag distribution slots in receptive territories. Premiering at Austria’s national film festival in Graz, it will bow internationally at Argentina’s BAFICI (Buenos Aires) in April and should provide Ayub with breakout status as a documentarist to watch.   

The Bottom Line

Engaging intersection of the domestic and the geo-political.

So far her name has mainly been known in circles devoted to relatively experimental fare — Ayub has been a prolific maker of shorts since her teenage years and 10 of her works are currently promoted by Vienna’s esteemed distribution label sixpackfilm. These included the 22-minute Family Holiday — recording her visit to relatives back in Kurdistan.

Paradise! Paradise! is an extended variation on the same theme — this time she accompanies her father Omar, a successful doctor glimpsed in his Vienna clinic at the start of the film, to the Kurdish city of Erbil, where they stay with Omar’s brother and his family. Omar dreams of buying property in the area, and Kurdwin joins him checking out various apartments in various states of completion, and in neighborhoods of varying types.

The title comes from Omar’s exclamation upon visiting an especially fancy mini-village, but it obviously has wider applications. For the ebullient Omar, Kurdistan is a kind of heaven on earth — “no other place compares, either for food or drink,” he enthuses. But there are clouds on the horizon, specifically rumbles of battle from the nearby frontlines, where Kurdish forces battle ISIS opponents.

Patriotic Omar seizes the chance to witness the hostilities first hand, posing in military duds and showing off assault weaponry for the benefit of his daughter’s camera and the folks back home. “Kurdwin, make an effort to film this well,” he urges as they are taken to the very edge of the battle zone — a third-act development that adds a note of genuine tension to what has been up to this point a disarmingly breezy, often humorous enterprise.

Ayub’s technique is to acknowledge her own presence and praxis at every stage, seemingly reluctant to ever turn off her camera, even when filming may risk sparking trouble by contravening local rules of etiquette. Her shorts often dealt directly and boldly with matters of sexual identity, and the situation of females in Kurdistan — in contrast to the liberal ways of Austria — is one of numerous hot-button subjects the film touches on in a light but informative and illuminating manner.

The simple fact that Ayub is a youthful, educated, independent-minded female artist going about her work — something unthinkable a few miles away in the ISIS-controlled zone — is itself a statement, of course. Paradise! Paradise!, while deliberately rough-edged and unvarnished, functions smoothly as an eloquent representation of a sparky and irrepressible world view. Her dad’s larger-than-life persona may steal the show here, but it’s Ayub’s directorial and authorial voice that is the real takeaway. We’ll undoubtedly be hearing a lot more from her soon. 

Production companies: Takacs Filmproduktion
Director / Screenwriter / Cinematographer: Kurdwin Ayub
Producer: Rudi Takacs, Lixi Frank
Editor: Nooran Talebi
Sales: sixpackfilm, Vienna
No rating, 78 minutes