There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Even more frightening than incompetent law enforcement is a mother determined to arrange a marriage. Fleeing both, Baran (Korkmaz Arslan), a former freedom fighter living in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, accepts a post as police captain in a small village near the borders of Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. He soon meets Govend (Golshifteh Farahani), a teacher who’s been locked out of her home after returning from a visit with her family. A romance is kindled when Govend stays the night in the police station, but don’t be fooled by the obvious meet-cute. Director Hinor Saleem wastes no detail as he reveals the wider conflict of the film, in which Govend and Baran resist a corrupt local warlord. What follows is more nuanced than your typical Manichean battle of good vs. evil, even as it relies on American Western-movie tropes, down to the dessert setting; it’s a far messier struggle of written and ancestral law. By turns violent and comedic, the inconsistent tone of My Sweet Pepper Land can occasionally distract from its weighty concerns, but it does not diminish Arslan and Farahani’s moving performances. Arslan is tender one moment and menacing the next without compromising the core of his character, while Farahani’s skill as a musician is put to haunting, wonderful use. Frame for frame, Saleem’s vision is as elegantly composed as a John Ford film. Even when it isn’t sure how serious it should be, My Sweet Pepper Land is is a deeply romantic, and beautifully scored, tale of honor and love.