May 29 2016
A feature film from Afghanistan made it to Cannes and it’s believed to be a first for the biggest film festival of them all after 69 years…
IT IS AN ACHIEVEMENT to have a feature film from Afghanistan at the Cannes Film Festival at all.
Winning the art cinema prize in the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes should help this film reach Western Europe and beyond.
Screening during the same section as India’s Anurag Kashyap’s “Raman Raghav2” is a sign of just how far this mid-20s Kabul based director, Shahrbanoo Sadat (pictured below) has already come.
Cannes has had its eye on her right from the start, so to speak – training at the French Atelier Varan Kabul, her first short film, “Vice Versa One” was selected to play in the shorts section at the Directors’ Festival in 2011 and she is a product of Cannes Cinefondation Residency from 2010.
Well, that tells you how this film got to Cannes.
There is a central common thread, in that it looks at misfits and how they survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
That isn’t to do so much with the physical way that they live, but the relationships forged in close-knit, mostly insular and self-contained communities.
There is no obvious talk of the Taliban, or extremism and a war which is somewhat distant and over the hills (quite literally you feel).
Centred around 11-year-old girl ‘Sediqa’ and a boy called ‘Qodrat’, the two become friends and it is clear that they are kindred spirits and somewhat rebellious in meeting and defying tradition which requires boys and girls to be strictly kept apart unless they are very small.
This is a part of the world where child marriage is common and some families think nothing of marrying off their 11-year-old daughters sometimes to far older men – who are more able to support one wife or a few (another local custom).
Sadat’s film is not about that – it is not a campaigning work or one that tows a certain social activist line. It’s fairly clear where Sadat may stand on the issue, but her film is deeper and more humanistic in its approach and is more powerful as a consequence.
Some may find it a little slow; it has a naturalistic rhythm, one that perhaps captures the mood and tenor of life, as it is in that region of rural central Afghanistan.
The children tell each other stories, some quite fantastical in nature and there is bad behaviour: jealousy, spite, anger and low level violence.
All this is not unusual, and Sadat looks at the myths and how they affect the children and their outlook on life and this is really at the very heart of her film.
The child actors are amazing and Sadat has got the very most from them; the cinematography too is powerful and telling, especially affecting for those who don’t spend a lot of time in the untamed wilderness of mountains and hills, with mostly goats for company.
Shot in Tajikistan, this is technically accomplished and a has a soulful feel that is hard to ignore.
There is an innate beauty about this gentle, subtle, quiet drama – it is not for everyone, but it does what Sadat told us in her interview with us and what she told the audience after its first screening in Cannes – it presents a side of Afghanistan you are not likely to have seen before.
Yes, the people are religious and have strong beliefs, but that is intermixed with local myths and stories too, and if anything, Sadat says, childhood is precious and formative and that perhaps your value system is moulded by your earliest personal experiences, wherever you grow up and it is quite wrong to make assumptions about a people and their place (in the world) simply from following or believing blindly the mass media. (Sailesh Ram)
ACV rating:*** (out of five)
More video interviews from Cannes 2016 soon! Including ‘Raman Raghav 2’ and ‘A Yellow Bird’
Interview in Cannes, May 2016