Written and Directed by Sarkaut Taro
Film Review by Rebecca Ford
I saw Impure, for the first time in December of 2015 at the second annual movie Premiere of the Nashville Filmmakers Meetup, a local group of like-minded people in Nashville, TN who represent every facet of filmmaking and who offer their skills to one another, free of charge, for the various film projects that the group green lights each year.
In 2015 there were ten films in production. I had been looking forward to seeing Impure after having had a discussion about it with writer-director-actor Sarkaut Taro, as he was still developing the story. The topic of his film, extreme Islamic terrorism, caught my attention, but it was the twist that Taro added to the plot that really whet my appetite. What would happen if a suicide bomber were to change his mind while employed on a suicide mission? That’s precisely the question that Taro raises in his sixteen minute short film.
The film is timely, as terrorist groups continue to make strides around the globe, taking control of more territory through the use of violent and unconscionable acts. It is difficult to even ponder the notion that a hardened soul could ever possibly change his mind before committing a gruesome act that would guarantee him an eternity in Paradise, while causing ongoing pain and torment for those who would survive.
The film begins in Iraq where a terrorist leader, played by Taro, convinces the film’s protagonist, Hassan, to participate in a suicide mission. Hassan, who appears to be perhaps in his twenties, doesn’t look or act like what one might consider to be a terrorist. Instead, he is a soft spoken, gentle soul, with two sisters and an aging father, whom he loves and must support. However, he is jobless and has but one option: to accept the suicide mission.
During a recent interview, Taro explained to me that Hassan, like so many terrorist recruits, is a victim of his county’s political system. It’s not that Hassan wants to don a vest loaded with explosives, but rather, he must in order to ensure the safety and economic security of his family. He would exchange his life for the well-being of his loved ones, which would ensure him a place in Paradise, while simultaneously propelling the country’s political agenda forward.
Once Hassan arrives in America, he meets the film’s secondary character, Angelina, who Taro paints as a victim of the American political system. Angelina and her husband separate, forcing her to think about how she and her two children will survive. In a post war era and market crash, when over eight million people became unemployed in the United States, not a job could be had. As a result, Angelina’s struggle forces her to elect prostitution as her last resort.
When these characters meet, the viewer witnesses a contrast of worlds. They are two people from dissimilar countries, cultures, languages and religions, but they share a common dilemma that represents a universal problem; that which forces good people to turn to violence, crime and other shameful acts in exchange for the survival of themselves and/or their loved ones.
For Hassan this dissimilarity is evident as he observes his new surroundings. American life is more organized, children go to school, and ethnic and religious diversity are tolerated. After carrying out his mission, he is promised his place in Paradise, but when he peers out his hotel window at the beautiful cityscape, could he be telling himself that he already is in Paradise?
All of this contrast creates a moral conflict within this character, compelling him to question what has been asked of him. To further complicate matters, he encounters a dog named Rose, who presents him with the most significant contrast of all. When the terrorist leader sends Hassan to kill the infidels, he reminds him that, “They [Americans] are as a dog, impure. They are made of God’s ground – dirty, untouchable.”
I asked Taro about this because as a non-Muslim, I felt that Rose played a symbolic role throughout the film, but I could not pinpoint exactly why. According to Taro, Islamic culture views dogs as being impure. “If you touch it,” he says, “you have to wash your hand.” In fact, if the dog touches one’s clothes, then the clothes must be washed before one can go pray.
Taro further explained that dogs are not well taken care of and are used primarily to protect sheep from wolves. In the summer months when it is extremely hot, dogs will bathe themselves wherever they can find relief, usually in highly contaminated water, where the dogs then contract viruses which kill them or which cause such disease in the animals, that they need to be killed.
In one scene, Hassan watches a woman as she and her dog wait with a group of children for a school bus. He cannot help but notice the love that exists between the two. She treats her four-legged counterpart as if it were her child. This would never happen in Hassan’s country of Iraq, nor would a dog be allowed to lick battle wounds, which is what Rose does for Hassan later in the film. Furthermore, Rose offers to Hassan her companionship. Impure? Perhaps he thinks not, as he recalls reading in the Koran that all creatures have a purpose, and for that they have been created.
When titling his film, Taro decided to use this dog reference. There is an irony to it that one would not understand if one has not the knowledge of this cultural ideology. When naming his characters, Taro was also very deliberate. Hassan in Arabic means “good” and Angelina in Italian is “little angel.” He wants the viewers to understand that these are good people with good hearts who are sacrificing themselves for their families by taking work that carries a negative social stigma. This juxtaposition which Taro introduces, creates the struggle between good and evil that is apparent throughout the entire film.
From a structural perspective, Impure hits all the important points. However, Taro did not want to create a paint-by-number type of film, whereby everything is explained to the viewer. What he most desires is to motivate movie watchers to think, to formulate questions and ultimately, to spark discussion about the film, its characters and the issue of terrorism and all that it encompasses.
In his native home of Iraq, Taro graduated in 1985 as a fine arts theater director. He acted in more than seventy plays and directed more than thirty. In my interview with him he could not speak enough about Bertolt Brecht, a German playwright, theatre director and poet, who he admires immensely and who has heavily influenced his work.
Brecht is famous for his “Defamiliarization Principle,” which attempts to create an emotional distancing of audience members from the characters and the story so that they can better analyze each character’s dilemma and come to the intellectual realization that something very wrong is occurring that needs to be changed.
As for Taro he wants this film to serve as a springboard for discussion and a catalyst for change. He lived under the Saddam Hussein regime, and his three brothers were executed by Saddam for political reasons. When Taro escaped, Saddam captured his mother in an attempt to lure him back to Iraq, but when Taro did not return, Saddam had her exiled to a border city, where she lived the rest of her life.
Once here in the United States, Taro did what he could to raise awareness, to get people talking and ultimately to effect change. He accomplished this through his own local television programming, paired with his participation in 2004 as a role player and cultural advisor for the United States government, where he would aide in preparing the Army before their deployment to Afghanistan.
In his own words about his film Taro says, “I wanna open the door [to] discuss with everybody. That is my goal. Not just make a film for money…I want to save us this war on humanity…I wanna say stop using all nations’ people. If you have a problem do not use war, killing. Do [it] another way.”
Since the Nashville Filmmakers Premiere, Taro has submitted his film to more than one hundred festivals worldwide where it has been accepted by about thirty-five thus far. Some who have rejected it have expressed that his film is more powerful than others, which suggests that the controversial subject matter may play a role in their decision. Fearing a repeat Islamic terrorist attack, much like the ones the world witnessed in France, Belgium and Denmark, they shy away from his film.
Furthermore, Taro revealed that in creating such a film he is taking a huge risk, since terrorist leaders forbid anyone from showing terrorist fighters changing their minds. Because of this, Taro says his life is in danger. However, he believes strongly that artists need to create films no matter how controversial the subject matter, otherwise the world cannot change for the better or become safer.
Thus far Impure has placed third for Best Drama and third for Best Film in the Texas Ultimate Shorts Festival. Considering that the film had a total budget of a thousand dollars, the film quality is very good, the acting is decent, and the special effects do their job.
What really grabbed me though, was the story and its characters. Perhaps it is because as an American, I feel the threat of terrorism more in the present day than I did pre-911, or perhaps it is my own personal nature to understand what makes people tick, but for sixteen minutes and thirty seconds I was completely enveloped in the characters and in the story’s action. This film is definitely thought provoking and engaging. Therefore, if you are looking for a film that will pique your intellect, then put Impure on your list of must-see films.