20 Cigarettes = One
day for a lifetime

(Staff Reporter)
Filed on December 19, 2010

DUBAI - Where does one start the story of Aureliano Amedei or his film 20 Cigarettes?

Perhaps, it must start from when he was a “punk,” wandering aimlessly, trekking down Nepal. Perhaps, it should begin, when he returned to his mother, and took up her friend’s offer to assist him as an assistant director for a movie being shot in Iraq. Or perhaps, it must begin a few more years earlier, when he skipped the mandatory military service on the ground that he “was gay”.

The definitive turning point, however, happens on that eventful day when the 28-year-old simply forgot to set his alarm clock to Iraq time. He woke up to Italian time in Iraq and delayed his film crew. Talk about coincidences, the crew lost their way, and found themselves asking for directions at the Italian police headquarters in Nasiriyah.

What happened later is painfully reconstructed, detail for detail, minute by minute, in 20 Cigarettes, which is being screened at the seventh Dubai International Film Festival. Aureliano was waiting with five other members of the crew, when a truck-bomb blasted the police station. All others died including his mother’s friend. Aureliano, who was flung some 20 metres away, was spared only to limp back to life having been hospitalised for the next two-and-a-half years.

Perhaps, there was a reason that he lived? So he could make the film and tell the world about war? “No,” asserts Aureliano. “I was told that 12 kids died that day. I see no reason why I should have lived when these children died.”

Aureliano says that 20 Cigarettes is not a war film. “It is a life film, for several reasons. First, it is the story of my life. Secondly, it is a technique used with the desire of bringing back to an audience the whole experience.”

And since life experiences are not stereotypes, Aureliano mixed a number of techniques to make the film. “It starts as a comedy, becomes psychedelic, then a war movie, gets emotional and finally ends as political reportage.”

Most importantly, he wants to convey to the audience the message that one must not judge anything at all without having experienced it. “And when we live through these situations, we learn that life is not monolithic.” That is precisely what he packs in 20 Cigarettes, the name implying “a day when you smoke 20 cigarettes, a day when the simple act of waking up late followed by a series of coincidences” can change the life forever.

Recovering from the hospital, Aureliano embarked on a cathartic journey – a journey that he continues to this day. He knows that it won’t be easy to get over it, despite already having written a best-seller book and made the movie. He still gets panic attacks; he avoids taking any psychiatric medicine though but he needs painkillers.

He knows he hasn’t got over the trauma because Aureliano did not return to Iraq to make the movie. “I was afraid. I am afraid.”

So he travelled the length and breadth of Morocco to find a place that was similar to Nasiriyah. Recreating his life experience was equally painful — because every aspect was from his life.

And he has a bone to pick with the so-called war films. “War is often presented to us as a spectacle. It is not only false; it is also dangerous for the world. War has no poetics; it has no epic side to it. It is sad.”

That sadness is what Aureliano has lived… and will possibly live through.

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