Heavy Metal in Baghdad
Facts and Figures
Run time: 84 mins
In Theaters: Friday 23rd May 2008
Distributed by: Arts Alliance
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Heavy Metal in Baghdad Movie Review
Heavy Metal started out of an article about the band that Vice magazine ran in 2004. Unable to shake the idea of these four musicians struggling to make a go of the rock and roll life in the middle of a war zone, a pair of Vice journalist/filmmakers (Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi) went to Iraq a year later to find out what was going on with the band. What the rather raggedly produced film still manages to vividly put across is that, like many elements of Iraqi society, after the 2003 American invasion, things for the band members went from bad to worse. Under Saddam Hussein, Acrassicauda (a superbly metal name, it comes from the Latin for "black scorpion" and is regularly misspelled by the band members) were barely allowed to play, which was insult enough. But in Baghdad's post-invasion sectarian tumult, the English-speaking metalheads were seen as practically infidels; in a bitterly comic aside, one of them notes how some Islamists claimed that the longhaired headbangers were actually singing Jewish prayers and so deserved to die. Death threats and accusations of Satan worship were par for the course.
The filmmakers evidence a clear affection for the guys in Acrassicauda, a big-hearted and charming bunch who just want to play in peace. In a particularly poignant moment, Moretti and Alvi manage to put together (after enough planning and security to organize a small war) an Acrassicauda concert for a few diehard loyalists. Though truncated, it's a few minutes of cathartic thrash bliss, pushing back the soul-crushing chaos of the streets outside. Not long after, the band, like so many other Iraqis, are forced to flee as refugees to Damascus.
In its later sections, Heavy Metal becomes a trickier sort of film to behold. As the members of Acrassicauda struggle to find a life or even just a place to play in Damascus (the metal scene being not much livelier there than back home), the filmmakers come more to the fore. Co-director Alvi is an especially notable presence, having served as the film's de facto narrator early on, deadpanning about the increasing layers of guards their security firm kept piling onto them in Baghdad. Given the bright presence of band members like bass player Firas -- a fiercely intelligent and sharp-witted man who's like a walking proof that metal and ignorance aren't necessarily bedmates -- it's a letdown every time the film defers to its creators, who often seem to be posturing rather than reporting. Alvi in particular evinces a hipster world-weariness so faux it seems practically store-bought. The lack of authenticity feels particularly galling the more one thinks of Acrassicauda, homeless and losing hope, wanting only to be allowed to rock and feel human again.
Reviewed at the 2008 Berlinale Film Festival.