A Brief Commentary & Review of El Clásico
Directed and produced by Halkawt Mustafa
Mountain Shadow's selection for October, 2016
By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest …
Pop songwriter/lyricist Leigh and Darion
As a place known only too well as one of international conflict and internal civil strife, modern day Iraq might seem an unlikely place for a film about two star-crossed lovers following an impossible dream. In fact, the director of El Clasico, Halkawt Mustafa, has described how filming on location in Baghdad’s “Green Zone” was interrupted numerous times by nearby bombings.
At the same time, perhaps the point of the storyline is made all the more poignant and persuasive when the internal ways of the heart can withstand all the slings and arrows the outside world can heave, and still triumph in the end. How far will you go for love, the film asks? It’s a universal question and common storyline. It’s where you tell the story, and how well you tell the story, that sets a fine film like this one apart.
In this Romeo and Juliet tale, Alan and Gona have found their hearts true desire in one another, but he is clearly unsuitable in the eyes of her father. It is not that their families are rivals in their small Kurdish town in northern Iraq. Rather, Alan is one of the “little people,” a dwarf. When it comes to winning his daughter’s hand in marriage, Alan might just as well be tilting at windmills. “You’ve always told me to dream big,” the spurned dwarf says to Mr. Jalal. “Not that big,” the father replies with mild disdain.
There is only one thing in Gona’s father’s life that he loves nearly as much as his daughter; and that is his love of his favorite football (soccer) team. Alan resolves to make his way to foreign lands and present a pair of custom shoes to football star Cristiano Ronaldo. (Highly prized and valued klash shoes are the product of an ancient Iraqi tradition and take hundreds of hours to make.)
So the film simultaneously becomes another classic road trip movie, and a modern-day Don Quixote story, as well; complete – as the song goes -- with “unbearable sorrows, running where the brave dare not go, to reach an unreachable (soccer) star!” Gona is the fair beauty, Dulcinea. Alan’s brother, Shirwan, plays the part of Sancho, his faithful sidekick. And his noble steed? The ATV they use to tear around the Iraqi countryside.
Along the way, they’ll encounter a strange, wise elder; and strict religious fanatics who warn them with death threats not to be defiled by the infidel’s idle sport (football). In fact, playing impostors in a near-death will ultimately be the only way they arrive at those earthly pearly gates outside the football stadium in Madrid. All the adventures and misadventures cannot ultimately defeat Alan in his quest.
There is a 2-part dream-like scene that stands apart from the dusty byways and harsh circumstances of life. It is a snowy wooded scene where Gona meets her beloved, and he is empowered to conquer all in his impossible quest. In the end, it’s left up to each viewer to decide if it’s only a post-mortem dream, or a dream come true. Either way, a love that trumps all is the message in this sweet little fable. jb