A modern morality tale about a former Australian soldier, Mike, who returns to Afghanistan to find the family of a civilian he accidentally killed during the war. Seeking forgiveness, he puts his life in the hands of the village justice system - the Jirga.
Review by Louise Keller:
Redemption and forgiveness are the themes of this potent drama in which a man is driven by his conscience. It is gripping cinema. Benjamin Gilmour has made a visually stunning film whose narrative is simple, yet its implications are complex. Gilmour, who wrote directed and shot the film, achieves an appealing stillness as the former Australian soldier protagonist (Sam Smith, superb) makes his redemptive journey. The questions raised in the film's first half are answered in the second. Images, not dialogue are the driver.
After a brief prologue in which we watch as men make a violent invasion in the dark of night, the narrative commences three years later in Kabul. There is a great sense of place: the chaotic traffic, the street commerce, interesting faces and the hubbub of the crowd. The camera follows Mike, a lean bearded handsome man in the mould of a young Clint Eastwood. He wanders through the local markets, buys a battered guitar from a shopkeeper rather than accept the offer of guns or knives. We learn a few things as we watch him. What is he doing; where does he want to go; what is his objective?
We are there in Kabul during the day and by night during an electrical storm. Mike is waiting, watching, waiting. As we accompany him into the desolate, harsh vista in the company of a taxi driver (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad) who speaks no English, the real journey begins. Scrambled eggs in the middle of nowhere, a tune on an old guitar, sandy rocks and cliffs that look like a painting. The imagery is haunting. The sequence in which Mike and the taxi driver bond through music and actions is one of the highlights.
What happens next is best discovered when watching the film. We glean an insight into the human cost of war and how it may affect both sides. Money does not always talk. And the spoken word is not always required to convey intent and emotions. It is the heart that does the most effective bidding.
There were huge challenges in the making of this film - from financial to logistic. At one point, Gilmour notes: 'Sam Smith and I were stranded in Pakistan with no team and no money.' (The film was subsequently shot in Afghanistan at considerable personal risk.) Crowd funding, personal savings, courage and tenacity enabled this remarkable film to be made. The film is Australia’s submission for Best Foreign Language film Oscar. It was awarded the $100,000 best film prize at CinefestOz.
Unforgettable and powerful, this is a unique work with a pulsating heart. Jirga is a noun meaning an Afghan court of tribal elders.
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CAST: Sam Smith, Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad, Amir Shah Talash
PRODUCER: John Maynard
DIRECTOR: Benjamin Gilmour
SCRIPT: Benjamin Gilmour
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Benjamin Gilmour
EDITOR: Nikki Stevens
MUSIC: AJ True
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Not credited
RUNNING TIME: 78 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Footprint Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 27, 2018