After unintentionally cursing at President Saddam Hussein on stage, theatre director Salem must now convince a Ba′athist court that he is insane if he hopes to escape the death penalty. During the last months before the fall of Saddam, he must live in a Baghdad psychiatric hospital and struggle to maintain his sanity, while outside his execution awaits should the doctors announce his recovery.
After offending President Saddam Hussein live on stage, 27-year-old theatre director Salem only manages to escape the punishments of tongue-removal and death by convincing the Ba′athist court of his insanity. Embracing madness, Salem spends months exiled inside a mental hospital, while outside his execution looms should his physicians declare him mentally fit.
While in the hospital, 25-year-old doctor, Adyan, becomes emotionally drawn to Salem′s skills and talent, leading to a surreal love affair between the mad patient and his doctor. Soon, Salem attempts to escape from the hospital, but fails. During this time, Adyan uncovers the truth of his feigned insanity. The authorities learn of Salem′s escape attempt and intend to transfer him to prison. But Adyan comes to his rescue, confirming that her patient needs treatment and keeping the truth she has learned secret. Attempting to maintain his sanity, Salem begins writing a play, inspired by Hamlet, with the hospital residents in the lead roles. In Shakespearian style, he gathers the actors and assigns their parts.
The play is performed successfully, with Iraqi media coverage of the historical event reaching the ears of Saddam. The President sends a written recommendation, and the regime begins to take better care of the hospital patients. Salem receives a certificate of appreciation; a Presidential acknowledgement of his madness and a document which will spare him from the gallows.
The reality inside a mental institution is a fantasy devoid of truth. Therefore, I do not deny that the characters in this film may transcend imagination, granting them a significant degree of realism.
This film confronts the audience with a story of individuals who possess a heightened level of awareness, upon whom my characters are based. It treads a fine line between sanity and insanity. Amid chaos and sweetness, I strive to present a visual feast brimming with human emotion and examine the perspectives of my protagonists within the hospital, imbued with the wisdom of social means. The film revolves around a triangle, posing the question where lies the greater madness; in Saddam’s Regime, in the US occupation, or in life inside the hospital?
Sometimes, insanity lies in the mind′s capacity to think in unconventional ways, with madness and genius blending in a dance that surpasses the limits of intellect. This was my experience of Salem′s journey in Madness and Honey Days.
The film offers a completely new perspective on a tumultuous period in Iraq, through captivating characters who made me think in unconventional ways and will appeal to a wide audience across cultures; as will the film’s compelling themes of freedom, love, life and death, authoritarian regimes, politics, war, mental health, and the power of art in times of adversity.
Iraqi-UK writer-director Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji is an alumnus of Berlinale Talents 2018. The success of short film, My Name Is Mohammed (Yahya Al-allaq, 2010), for which he was a writer, earned him a place at London Film School, where he received an MA with distinction for his short Children of God (2013). Ahmed′s debut feature film, Hanging Gardens (2022), received recognition and support from the Royal Film Commission (Jordan) and won the Jury Prize for the Best Film in Post-Production at the Venice International Film Festival 2021. The film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival 2022, screened at Busan International Film Festival 2022, and took the Best Film and Best Cinematic Contribution awards at the Red Sea International Film Festival 2022, alongside numerous other awards.
Maytham Jbara is an Iraqi Toronto-based film writer and producer from a family of filmmakers in Baghdad. He honed his skills studying cinema and television at the University of Baghdad and attending numerous workshops on various aspects of film production. Maytham was selected for the Accelerator Fellowship and the European Audio-Visual Entrepreneurs (EAVE) On Demand Access Program for Producers presented by the National Screen Institute and Canada Media Fund. Maytham′s work includes award-winning feature film Hanging Gardens (Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji, 2022), which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival 2022, as well as numerous short films and several feature films in development.
Purattu Film Production is an independent production company, based in Baghdad and Toronto, focused on creating thought-provoking films that shed light on society and tell deeply human stories. The company aspires to support new filmmakers and promote cultural and artistic exchange between Canada, the Middle East, and Europe.