Over a ten-year period, the filmmaker, who trained as a cameraman, took up position on a balcony in three Middle Eastern towns: Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan; above the Montaza Al Sa’a crossroad in Ramallah in the middle of the second Intifada (2000-2003); and from the top of a building in the Karrada district of Baghdad, the filmmaker’s hometown, which he left 30 years ago and was then occupied by Americans.
From endless construction works to huge traffic jams at an intersection, this ballet of workers and machines initially offers the senses an urban choreography. But the circulation of the itinerant bakers returning each evening after curfew, street sweepers, beggars and schoolchildren is constantly hampered — the outcome of a political situation that sparks the viewer’s imagination.
On the stop-start worksites where security wavers, construction struggles against chaos, whilst on the street, orderliness at times takes a coercive turn. Yet, the cumulative effect of this dispositif also reveals a journey through governments and occupations. Midway between Jacques Tati and Elia Suleiman, a population’s resilience can also take the form of a stubborn fountain.
(Charlotte Garson- Critique de cinéma)
“What I found in Whispers of the Cities turned out to be completely different from what I’d imagined, and dreaded. Abid takes the audience on a slice of life journey that lasts ten years, yet seems to take only a few minutes. It’s surreal, wonderful, enlightening, infuriating and then once again, wonderfully surreal. The segment on Ramallah made me yearn once again for the beauty and charm of Palestine, while I decided that personally, I could cross off Erbil from my travel bucket list…….for all the wrong, yet very personal reasons. I don’t like rain. But you’ll have to watch Whispers of the Cities and decide the rest for yourself.”
(E Nina Rothe – The Huffington post)
“Watch, See, Feel: Kasim Abid’s Whispers of the Cities. Despite appearing like a collection of passive surveillance footage, Whispers of the Cities is not a departure from the filmmaker’s more personal past works. It is observational, but not objective. The scenes, while not staged, are nevertheless choreographed.
Abid had no control over what he saw, over the events unfolding before his camera’s lens. But he could exercise some power over what the film’s audience would see.
He dictates what is and is not significant through what he edits out and what he allows to remain, through what he chooses to linger on or skim over, through his arrangement and positioning of scenes.”
(Sophie Chamas – Ahram Online)
“One film didn’t win a prize in any category, although it should have, because it was unusual, significant, formally radical, experimental, and because it reduced the documentary film to its simplest denominator: showing, observing, and not judging. This film opens the audience to a piece of reality and allows it the freedom to sharpen its view, to make discoveries, to decide freely and to interpret. The audience is freed from the compelling view of the filmmaker, who suggests how to look at things.”
(Wilfried Reichart FIPRESCI jury member at te 7th Abu Dhabi Film Festival, 2013)
Life through a window can be monotonous and basic, but he weaves in the simple things in life – rain pouring down, people cross roads, newspapers are sold, food is delivered – as life gets more and more complex in these cities.
There are vignettes that speak volumes…army are on the streets of Ramallah, there is an explosion and curfew.
(Mark Adams, chief film critic SCREEN DAILY)