A group of childhood friends in Iraq is on a road trip through the desert. And while they joke, talk and banter in the car, the nature of their trip is anything but playful -- they're on their way to identify a body that may be one of their friends who have been lost for some time, a casualty in the ongoing war in the Gulf.
As they travel, the significance of their errand begins to weigh on them, though each friend expresses their uncertainty in different ways ranging from denial to aggression. But when they arrive at the military outpost, they all must confront the difficult reality of their friend's fate -- and the impact of war upon their lives.
Written and directed by Ramiel Petros, this short road drama possesses both an expansive sense of landscape and an intimate emotional scale, taking advantage of the roving desert setting and the close quarters of the car traveling through it. Like the desert, the camerawork and cinematography have a sun-soaked, dusty feel, giving the experience of watching the film a weathered, sometimes wearying patina. But thanks to sharp, observant dialogue, there is plenty of tension inside the car, as a contrasting group of personalities clash and argue within.
Theirs is the back-and-forth of longtime friends, and the dialogue beautifully captures the wide frame of references, inside jokes and history that characterize the intimacy between people who have known one another for a long time. At first it seems to presage a larger conflict that will boil up and change relationships forever. But the film shifts when the group arrives at their final destination. The impact of the film sharpens and comes to the fore here, and together the friends must confront the realities of war, as well as the immensity of their personal losses.
The cliche of many travel narratives is that it's more about the journey, not the destination. But in "Aziz," the destination truly is the defining factor in the film's overall meaning, where the characters come face-to-face with the brutalities of war, reduced to the bodies of the dead. Amid the geopolitical abstractions, war is defined by death. We can easily convince ourselves that war becomes a "backdrop" to our lives. But when it affects us directly, we realize that it will define our selves and lives going forward. "Aziz" has a twist, but here, its impact is less the shape-shifting of meaning and more an elegy for the casualties of battle, who linger with their loved ones, even if forgotten in the larger theaters of war.