Chaplin of the Mountains Tracks an Incomprehensible Quest in Northern Iraq


The glorious centerpiece of 1982’s Fitzcarraldo, in which Klaus Kinski’s lunatic outsider undertakes his passion project of bringing opera to the people of Iquitos, Peru, by having a ocean liner pulled over a mountain, was an iconic feat for both the film’s bigger-than-life hero and director Werner Herzog.

By extreme contrast, self-taught Kurdish-American filmmaker Jano Rosebiani’s mostly English-language drama — tracking an incomprehensible quest to project washed-out Charlie Chaplin shorts in the remote villages of northern Iraq — is deadened by milquetoast characters, uninspired landscape photography, and no perceptible stakes.

NYU students David (Zack Gold) and Alan (Bennett Viso) are joined on their cross-cultural road trip by a local TV star (Kurdo Galali), a pushy female journalist (Taies Farzan), and a French-Kurdish woman named Nazé (Estelle Bajou), none well-defined beyond their job titles.

They laugh and yearn and get yelled at for projecting their silent comedy on the side of a temple, but say nothing profound about life, love, cinema, or the culture around them.

A weightier goal suddenly materializes when the newly orphaned Nazé plays pied piper in the war-torn Qandil Mountains, where she tearfully reconnects with her grandfather after the Anfal genocide of the late ’80s.