Is Recycle a turgid and eventless documentary about not much or a neo-realist treasure about a part of the world most Westerners know nothing of but which almost all have strong opinions about? A little of each, as it turns out.
Set in Zarqa, the Jordanian city that gave birth to Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s master terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Recycle tracks a critical interval in the life of a devoutly religious Jordanian man who faces many of the same difficulties—rampant unemployment, fundamentalist religious cross-currents, a lack of meaningful engagement with his repressive country’s political system and resentment over Western meddling in his culture—that undoubtedly shaped his more infamous townsman.
Deprived of his livelihood by a dispute with his father and reduced to scouring Zarqa’s streets for discarded cardboard in order to (barely) support his two wives and eight children, Abu Ammar fills his days with dreams that come to nothing. He risks his life smuggling second-hand automobiles into Iraq only to have his life threatened and the vehicles confiscated (this action, like too much of this film, is described but not seen). We see him working on a theological book, but we never get any sense of its philosophy or competence. When terrorist bombs go off in a five-star Jordanian hotel, Ammar is rounded up with the usual suspects and left in jail long enough to utterly destroy the difficult balance of his impoverished life.
Ammar’s story comes to different conclusions than Zarqawi’s did, but Jordanian filmmaker Mahmoud al Massad takes the position that Ammar’s transformation could have gone either way. He parallels Amar and Zarqawi by stressing their shared ordinariness; Zarqawi’s one-time neighbors remember him with the same head-scratchings and verbal shrugs voiced by so many unlucky enough to live next to an unremarkable man who turned out to be a mass killer.
Though Recycle fails to visually dramatize many of the issues it seeks to address, simply taking the viewer on a journey into a mundane reality that has been so sensationalized by the global press borders on something higher than a good film. Like a genuine public service.
Distributor: No distribution set
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Mahmoud al Massad
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 78 min.
Release date: TBD
Reviewed: Sundance Film Festival 2008