DIRECTOR: AHMED YASSIN ALDARADJI STARRING: HUSSAIN MUHAMMAD JALIL, WISSAM DIYAA, JAWAD AL SHAKARJI, AKRAM MAZEN ALI RUNNING TIME: 1 HR 43 MINUTES
When a young Iraqi rubbish picker rescues an American sex doll from the Baghdad dumps, he crosses into a perilous red zone, where friends become enemies and nothing is certain in an explosive mix of love, war and madness.
Hanging Gardens is the International Feature submission for Iraq. Set in Baghdad in 2021, the film is about As’ad, a 12 year old boy, and his older brother Taha. Both presumably orphaned by the war, they now barely scrape a living, searching for discarded junk and plastic bottles at a vast, garbage dump called the Hanging Gardens. They sell that junk to a local honcho for just enough money to survive another day. But with As’ad’s fascination with US army-base dump, he frequently finds playboy magazines, and other pornographic images of women, which he sells on the side for a little bit of extra cash to his friend Amir.
One day though, while at the dump site, As’ad finds a state-of-the-art love doll, equipped with several top notch functions including a recording device. He brings the taboo item home, only to be assaulted by Taha, for ruining their reputation. As’ad retreats back to Hanging Gardens and creates a new home for himself, and his new doll, inside an abandoned military tank. When Amir discovers this sex doll, he pushes As’ad to pimp her out to the people in the area, which proves to be successful, but highly dangerous in a city and country where self-pleasuring aids are highly illegal.
Iraq’s volatility, which was heightened during the USA invasion of the country and later on with their withdrawal at the end of 2011, is at the heart of this film. The impoverished and marginalized, whose already fragile economic and social standing, has been further degraded, with up to 10 million Iraqis falling into extreme poverty. As’ad, Taha and Amir are all trying different ways to make money, to regain the life that they once had before.
On top of that, the film beautifully handles the repressed desire for sexual freedom, the fear of people’s judgement due to that sexual desire, and the limitations imposed by the local religious authorities. Despite the presence of a sex doll, the film is a comprehensive exhibition of fantasies. As’ad is stuck in the middle of it all, wanting to protect his doll, but falling into the fetishes surrounding him. He falls into the same patterns of the men around him, despite seeing her as a surrogate mother.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But not anymore. Not for As’ad. His hanging garden is an expansive wasteland which is now his job, his home, his solitude, his hopelessness longing for a mom, and finding it temporarily in a robotic sex doll.