Review – ‘Broken Layers’ Directed by Niccolo Rolim

A humanist portrayal of the Iraq War and its aftermath as experienced by Rosa, a half-Latina, half-Arab U.S. Marine.
Broken Layers (2021)

Written and directed by Niccolo Rolim, ‘Broken Layers’ is a 2023 drama short starring Rawan Hage, Nick Faltas, Esther Pidal and Eli King. The film has won numerous awards across the globe including Best Student Film; Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Rosa comes back to the US after her tour to Iraq. As the trials of war take a grim toll on her, Rosa finds adjusting to the mundane life back home difficult. With her Arab father not approving of her stint in the military, Rosa constantly remembers her life changing experience back in Iraq. As family friction threatens to derail her sanity, Rosa finds that peace and contentment within her life will come from where she expects it the least.

The Iraq War changed the world. It is within this politically charged climate that Broken Layers takes place as it attempts to make sense of the repercussions of the war on a poor immigrant family. Arab American soldiers were always conflicted about America’s excursions in the Middle East and kudos to Niccolo Rolim for shedding light on this important issue.

Broken Layers (2021)

As a film, Broken Layers works flawlessly and after it ended, I was shocked to find out that this is a student film. Competently shot, perfectly paced and expertly edited, this is a production that excels on all counts. From the complex emotional journey that Rosa goes through to the ethnic tensions in the US, Broken Layers sheds light on aspects of American life that have not had much time in the sun. The film also focuses on how Arab American soldiers are rejected by fellow Arabs for being paws of the American Establishment and how soldiers coming back from war are provided inadequate mental health support.

Perhaps the best aspect of the film are its moments of pure emotion. From Rosa’s violent outburst at the dinner table to good treatment in captivity, the film captures the ups and downs of life really well. The message here is clear; life is unpredictable and fleeting and it is best to enjoy the ride rather than wallowing in self pity.

Rawan Hage as Rosa is a revelation as she navigates her complex character really well. Pulled in two different directions due to her ethnicity and her job, Rosa finds life is not that easy when you are a half Arab marine. Rosa’s predicament is made complicated by the fact that she was captured in Iraq by the locals and her good treatment completely shatters her perception of the enemy. Equally impressive is the performance by Nick Faltas as Rosa’s dad. Having taken Rosa’s decision to become a Marine to heart, Ali is visibly pained and broken by what her daughter has become. It is this father-daughter friction that is the emotional bedrock of the film. When Rosa almost hits her father at the dinner table, this relationship hits rock bottom. But knowing both Rosa and her father, they will find common ground later on.

Broken Layers (2021)

Visually, the film is excellent. Scenes of Rosa in combat and captured in Iraq are interspersed perfectly with her adjusting back home. These show an interesting perspective; people who have seen combat never really come back from the battle and they are always there in the action in some capacity. While the reason for this might be PTSD, this visual narrative provides a fitting mirror to what is happening inside the protagonist’s mind.

Equally impressive is the narrative that keeps the audience on its toes. Jumping between the past in Iraq and the present back home, Rolim keeps things interesting. The editing is razor sharp and the pacing ensures no single moment feels tacked on. The cinematography adds a layer of authenticity to the film whilst the sound mixing captures Rosa’s jarring experience both war and home really well.

A winner of numerous accolades across the world, Broken Layers manages to impress in a way that feels both fresh and original. Featuring a stunning starring turn from Rawan Hage, the film beacons as a message of peace in a world torn by conflict. Niccolo Rolim’s film showcases the fissures in the American social fabric and uses these to comment on immigration and multiculturalism.



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