Rashel (played by Yasmin Ayoun) attempts to get her husband Heskel released from jail
If Nissim Dayan's film" Farewell Baghdad" - also know as "The Dove Flyer" after the book by Eli Amir on which it is based - is screened in Iraq, it will be the first time that Arab audiences are exposed to a portrayal of harassed Jews at variance with the 'peaceful coexistence' narrative they are more familiar with.
Y-Net News reports:
drawing some 150,000 viewers to Israel's cinemas, the film's producers
are attempting to transfer a copy of the film to Iraq for a special,
secret screening at one of Baghdad's main cinemas. The producers hope to
find an insurance company which will provide protection for the person
who will physically transfer the copy to Iraq, as it is impossible to
send it by mail.
The initiative to screen the movie in
Baghdad belongs to a leading official in Iraq's film industry, who asked
to remain anonymous. The Iraqi source secretly contacted an
acquaintance and colleague in the Israeli film industry and asked him to
check with the distributors in Israel whether they would be willing to
give him a copy of the film.
The film's distributors, brothers Moshe and Leon Edery, were moved by
the courageous appeal and are making efforts to transfer the copy
through a third country. If they are successful, "Farewell Baghdad" will
be screened in the Iraqi capital this month.
"It will be a highly important historic moment," says Moshe Edery. "I
will be very glad to see an Israel film finally being screened in
"Farewell Baghdad" tells the story of the Jewish community in the
Iraqi capital on the eve of the State of Israel's establishment, and the
way Jewish families and heads of the Jewish underground dealt with the
The film is filled with nostalgic memories from the life of Jews in
Baghdad, including a reenactment of the customs, clothing, food, and
mainly the Iraqi language in the Jewish dialect, which was common in
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Eyal Sagui Bisawe echoes the nostalgia theme - Jewish nostalgia and Arab nostalgia. He sees the film as the latest in a series of 'nostalgic films' made by non-Jewish film-makers about Jews:
""Farewell Baghdad” is based on Eli Amar’s novel, “Mafriah Hayonim” (“The
Dove Flyer”). Depicting the final days of Iraq’s Jewish community in
Iraq, the movie can be interpreted as having been created in a
contemporary Arab cultural context. This is because the nostalgic
yearning of many Jews from Arab lands for their countries of origin — a
yearning that is often mocked and dismissed — has significance in that
it is often shared not only by Arab-Jewish people but also by the same
“genuine” Arabs who stayed in those countries."
My comment: Nostalgia? Not really.
"Farewell Baghdad' differs from other recent portrayals of Jews in Arab countries because it actually shows Jews being mistreated by Arabs. Jews are jailed whether as Communists or Zionists; Jews are executed while the crowd jeers.The film tells the story of how Rashel attempts to get her husband Heskel released from jail by securing the services of a handsome Muslim lawyer.
Apart from a brief foray into a Baghdad nightclub where the characters are seduced by the voice and looks of the Jewish singer Salima Murad (played by Mira Awad), the film evokes nostalgia in only one respect: Nissim Dayan's decision to follow Ahuva Keren's suggestion and have the characters speak Judeo-Arabic. One could not fail to smile at phrases never before uttered on the cinema screen, and an Iraqi-Jewish audience could not fail but be delighted at the use of such colourful Judeo-Arabic expressions as 'two bottoms in the same underpants', or 'enough already'. But not all the characters - especially the Israeli-Arab actors - spoke intelligibly and one Iraqi Jewess confessed to reading the English subtitles in order to to understand what they were saying.
The film disappointed on two counts: unlike the book by Eli Amir, there was no background to the plot, no flashback to the 1941 Farhud to explain why many young Jews were desperate to stockpile weapons and throw in their lot with Zionism or Communism. Moreover, the setting felt like Jerusalem or Akko (it was). Where were the sun-baked bricks of Baghdad, or the views over the river Tigris? (of course an Israeli film crew shooting on location was an impossibility, but Dayan could have supplied stock shots to create the atmosphere). There were other inaccurate details: a couple would never have been seen kissing in the alleys of Baghdad.
I have heard other criticisms: that the film did not do justice to the 'way we lived.' A critic with memories of the Good Life in a comfortable home with servants would have been shocked by the harsh depiction of Jews harassed and hounded in the film.
Emil Murad in the Jerusalem Post takes exception to the fact that Iraqi Jews were not portrayed as civilised Europeans, pillars of the British colonial administration.
"In the film Farewell to Baghdad by Eli Amir, for example, we see Jewish
males wearing robes, skullcaps on their heads like those worn by Arabs,
barefoot or with slippers or cheap sandals. In short, we see primitive
people," he complains. "Is this the true picture? The question remains to be answered
by those who rub shoulders today with Iraqis. Let them judge."
In truth, however, the Europeanized Jewish upper and middle classes still comprised a minority of the Jewish community. You only have to read Nissim Rejwan's biography or Salim Fattal's 'In the alleys of Baghdad' to understand that, notwithstanding the political pressures of the late 1940s, life for the vast majority of Iraqi Jews was a hard grind and a daily struggle.
Dayan's Baghdad epic: end of a community