Karbala (14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival) Review

A small detachment of Polish and Bulgarian soldiers come under siege in Iraq in 2004, in Karbala, showing at the Kinoteka Festival.

Taking place in Iraq, 2004, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Karbala is a war film with a dual narrative. Newly assigned to a detachment of Polish and Bulgarian soldiers, private medic Kamil Grad (Antoni Królikowski) is charged with failure to come to a wounded soldier’s aid and failure to obey an order. Meanwhile, the detachment is posted to Karbala, a holy city to Shi-ite Muslims and come under siege in the city hall to 5000 Iraqi rebels. They held the city hall for three days without any loss of life. This episode, kept secret for ten years, was the largest battle that Polish soldiers had participated in since World War II. It’s a very tattered Polish flag that flies over the city.

Karbala, a second feature by Krzysztof Łukaszewicz (following 2010’s Lincz, which I haven’t seen. It’s along similar lines to English-language treatments of the Iraq conflict (though made with a much lower budget) and isn’t diminished by the comparison: it’s tightly made, with the many battle sequences suitably gruelling and quite bloody in places. Although it’s a Polish/Bulgarian coproduction, the emphasis is definitely on the Polish soldiers, with most of the dialogue in that language plus some English. While it’s not hard to see how Kamil’s story will dovetail with the main narrative, it still works.

Karbala shows on 9 April at 4.10pm at the Regent Street Cinema, London, as part of the 14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. Further UK showings and distribution are to be confirmed.


Updated: Apr 09, 2016

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