Roads of Ithriyah is the debut feature film from Venezuelan-Canadian immigrant turned filmmaker Javier Badillo. The film centers around Ahmad (Shayan Bayat), a militant in the Middle East who awakens as the lone survivor of an IED explosion that leaves him unsure of his past, present, or future and struggling to even remember which side he was fighting for in the conflict. The film is set in the opening days of the 2014 Syrian conflict, though Roads of Ithriyah is far more than simply a war flick.
In fact, I would hesitate to even call Roads of Ithriyah a war flick as the conflict itself is really only one of three key storylines for the film.
Eventually discovered by a soldier who initially believes him to be a deserter, Bahram Heidari's Khalid, Ahmad's life is portrayed in all its complexity as far more than simply this soldier who finds himself in this precarious situation. Badillo searches for and finds Ahmad's rich humanity, a journey made even more vivid thanks to the tremendously deep and soulful performance by Shayan Bayat. Bayat believably portrays the fullness of Ahmad's life from the years prior to the war when his expertise in perfumes and fragrances displeases his mother, Antifah (Mitra Lohrasb), a displeasure that extends to Ahmad's sister Safiyyah (Priya Margaret Kooner) who resists marriage.
In addition to this family front, Roads of Ithriyah follows Ahmad's life at a Canadian university where he meets Gudrun (Sarah Kelley), a young woman whose increased interest in fighting against Western colonialism is causing academic tensions.
All of these story threads are relevant in Roads of Ithriyah and Bayat helps us understand not just the physical journey but the emotional one that Ahmad experiences. Beautifully lensed by Jay Kamal with the Red Epic with a British Columbia desert filling in for the Middle East, Roads of Ithriyah is an engaging and thoughtful motion picture that picked up several prizes including a Leo Award for its sound which is vastly superior to what one usually expects from a low-budget indie. Kudos as well for the original score from Nascuy Linares.
Shot over several years, Roads of Ithriyah is a multi-layered drama much more centered on humanity than it is war, labels, or conflicts. As a man, Ahmad is portrayed realistically and we come to understand his journey and how he arrived at this moment in his life. With dignity and sensitivity, Javier Badillo has crafted an engaging, thoughtful motion picture and I look forward to his future efforts.