Director: Yasir Assim Al A’asam
Writer: Yasir Assim Al A’asam
Cast: Mohannad Ali, Hatem Aliwi, Murad Muhannad
Running time: 8mins
Judging by its placid exterior, Hook might seem like an idyllic life that many people might consider an escape from the constant churn of modern life. The boat of a nameless fisherman (Mohannad Ali) drifts out across an immaculate stretch of water; the surface a cool, undisturbed mirror.
Cattle pass silently by on a distant bank, as the man casts his line out. As he does, he reminisces on a trip he undertook with his father, many years before – possibly out onto the same lake. A hint of sadness flickers across his face as he remembers someone fondly, who is no longer able to share the beautiful surroundings with him. As the audience sits on the boat in silent meditation, many of us may also be casting our minds back to a similar formative experience, in one of those rare moments where all we had to worry about was the bobbing of a lure on the glassy body of water.
Director Yasir Al A’asam and his fellow cinematographer Ali Adil deserve a great deal of credit here. Every aspect of the natural surroundings is given chance to sing, from the misty shores of a cove inhabited by remote farmers, to the golden sunrise beckoning our fisher out into the river. But the camera also manages to deliver that, while foregrounding the far less idyllic reality soon to be served up.
As peaceful as the aerial shot of the fisherman’s boat is, as it sits alone in the middle of the impossibly calm water, there is something unnerving about it. From this top-down angle, the sunlight no longer shimmers from sparkling ripples – it just bounces off the surface, failing to penetrate the murky depths beneath. Just what kind of unseen horrors might be submerged just out of sight started to play on my mind, long before it was finally hauled into view.
As it transpires, the man in the boat is not a fisherman at all. This peaceful, beautiful place is in Iraq, and he is hunting something else all together: artefacts from the country’s invasion and occupation by NATO troops in 2003. While his father might have profited from selling the carp that he once pulled out of this river, the son has long since realised that he can make a better living by unearthing the ghosts of a cataclysmic conflict, 20 years after it commenced. Each time he casts his line into the water, the man is hoping to dredge up scraps of military gear – discarded or lost by US military personnel – with the hope of selling the fragments on the local market.
It’s tough to know how to feel about that.
On the one hand, there is a kind of spirited beauty to it; that in two decades the site of what was probably a horrific battle – in a criminal war started on lies, and which tore a million lives apart – has faded from view, and been reclaimed by nature. No matter how grand your imperialist project, this may suggest that its time will come, and all of its brutality and splendour will sink beneath the water, mud and silt – while its bones are picked clean by the descendants of those it tormented.
On the other hand, Hook also seems to remind us that however we might manage to rebuild our lives after an apocalyptic trauma, things cannot return to how they were before. Our man on the boat has not returned to making a living from carp fishing, he is relentlessly having to confront the horrors of a conflict he lived through (and his father, who is only present in memory, may not have) in order to make ends meet. However idyllic our lives may be, just beneath the surface are the scars that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives, and we will have to accommodate them within our survival, rather than simply being able to move beyond and forget them.
Hook is a film of few words. In fact, there is not a single line of dialogue spoken throughout its eight minutes of footage. But in that time, it manages to say so much, by unwaveringly adhering to the doctrine that less is more. In most cases, Yasir Assim Al A’asam has simply let the landscape do the talking, and has produced an excellent, hands-off narrative in the process.