A still from “Wolf and Sheep” by Shahrbanoo Sadat
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, Photo: Cannes Film Festival
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO FARSI CINEMA: AFGHANISTAN in focus
by Mariam Habib, Kaveh Daneshmand
Like buried treasure under a deep, vast ocean, the cinema of Afghanistan remains one of the undiscovered gems of international cinema. Continuing our Beginner’s Guide to Farsi Cinema, Farsi Cinema Center has curated a concise list of rich, impactful films from the Farsi-speaking region. Our focus this week is on Afghan cinema.
The films below not only showcase the immeasurable talent of Afghan filmmakers, together, they frame the picture of Afghan cinema itself. We hope this integrated list gives our readers an expanded perspective of the styles, themes and tones that define Afghan cinema. And we hope to introduce you to what Afghan cinema has done and can do.
1. Osama, Siddiq Barmak (2003)
The first film shot entirely in Afghanistan following the Taliban rule in 1996, Osama tells the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy during the repressive Taliban regime. Belonging to a family comprised of three women, Osama is forced to disguise herself in order to support her family. Barmak weaves together character resilience with lyricism, preventing the film from being too emotionally heavy, and, instead, creating a beautiful, sad, and thoughtful product. As written in a review by the New York Times, director “Barmak is unsparing in his anatomy of the Taliban’s cruelty, especially as it was directed against women, but there is very little feeling of vengefulness or hatred in the film, which makes it all the more devastating in the end.” The film, which was created to alert the distracted west following 9/11 about the horror associated with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, received the Camera d’Or special mention for best first feature at Cannes in 2003, and won the Golden Globe for best foreign film in 2004.
2. A Letter to the President, Roya Sadat (2017)
The most recent film on this list, A Letter to the President shares the tale of a strong-willed police chief in Kabul who is sentenced to death after accidentally killing her abusive husband. While the film is not the first of its kind to highlight female oppression in an Islamic state, the film portrays the experience of a woman in a respectable position of power and high social standing. Sadat’s depiction of the deep-rooted gender hierarchy that runs rampant regardless of privilege or class, was Afghanistan’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the Oscars in 2017, but was ultimately not nominated. She is known to be the first female director out of Afghanistan following the Taliban rule.
A Few Cubic Meters of Love by Jamshid Mahmoudi
3. A Few Cubic Meters of Love, Jamshid Mahmoudi (2014)
Born in Afghanistan and based in Iran, brothers Jamshid and Navid Mahmoudi began their collaboration in feature filmmaking with their film A Few Cubic Meters of Love. Written and directed by Jamshid and produced by Navid, the film centres on the secret romance between Saber (Saeed Soheili), an orphaned Iranian factory worker and Marona (Hassiba Ebrahimi), a young Afghan girl who lives in a temporary shelter on the factory grounds. The film is shot on location, using a fictional plot to take audiences into the real lives of marginalized Afghan migrants in Iran. The love story is layered with themes of identity, class and honour. A Few Cubic Meters of Love represented Afghan cinema in festivals all over the world. The film went on to receive 14 nominations and win 4 awards, including Best Film (Navid Mahmoudi) and Best Directing (Jamshid Mahmoudi) in the First Film Competition at the prestigious Fajr Film Festival in Iran.
4. Earth and Ashes, Atiq Rahimi (2004)
Earth and Ashes >is novelist and filmmaker Atiq Rahimi’s debut feature. An adaptation of his own book, the film is the story of an Afghan family facing unbearable tragedy. After a devastating bombing in their village, family elder Dastaguir (Abdul Ghani) and his grandson Yassin (Jawan Mard Homayoun) journey through a dangerous rocky landscape to the coal mine where Dastaguir’s son Murad works. As it turns out, the backbreaking journey is easier yet compared to what Dastaguir must journey to. He must inform Murad that his wife and mother have died in the bombings and his son Yassin has lost his hearing. Earth and Ashes is a French-Afghan co-production. The film is co-written by Kambuzia Partovi, who wrote Jafar Panahi’s The Circle, and co-produced by Siddiq Barmak, another leading Afghan filmmaker. Rahimi’s directing style takes influence from prominent Iranian arthouse figures like Kiarostami. The film screened at Cannes in 2004, where it won a Regard Original Award.
Wolf and Sheep by Shahrbanoo Sadat
5. Wolf and Sheep, Shahrbanoo Sadat (2016)
The International Confederation of Art Cinemas called Shahrbanoo Sadat’s Wolf and Sheep “a hybrid film constructed from sweet fairy tales, mysterious fantasies, touchingly portrayed real life, inspiring dreams, unique culture traditions in stunning and calm landscapes just before chaos and war”. The film received the C.I.C.A.C.E. Award at Cannes in 2016. Wolf and Sheep takes us into the lives of shepherd children in rural Afghanistan. Among them, 9-year-old Sediqa finds herself on the outside. Sediqa dreams of swinging slings like the boys. She befriends Qodrat, an 11-year-old boy who keeps to himself in the quiet parts of the mountains. The film blends elements of documentary with narrative, creating an almost anthropological observance of the characters’ every day lives.
6. Parting, Navid Mahmoudi (2016)
In this follow-up to their 2014 film A Few Cubic Meters of Love, brothers Navid and Jamshid Mahmoudi switch roles. Navid Mahmoudi takes the director’s seat for the first time with Parting, a story of two stranded lovers seeking refuge in Europe. Nabi (Reza Ahmadi) arrives in Tehran, where his girlfriend Fereshteh (Fereshteh Hosseini) immigrated with her family four years earlier. From there, the two of them set off to start a new life in Europe, but their dream is halted when a man they paid to smuggle them across Turkey leaves them abandoned. Navid and Jamshid Mahmoudi revisit the subject of migration, expanding on the story of those who find themselves in-between. Exploring the in-between motherland and refuge, journey and destination, suffering and settlement, Mahmoudi highlights the chaos and restlessness of immobilization and inertia. Parting premiered at the Busan International Film Festival in Korea.
Kabul, City in the Wind
7. Kabul, City in the Wind, Aboozar Amini (2018)
This 2018 documentary directed by Aboozar Amini was the opening film at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Kabul, City in the Wind provides a captivating observation of the daily lives of three individuals: Abas, Afshin and Benjamin. Afshin is a former civil war-era soldier, now bus driver who does not lend his trust to others without careful apprehension. Afshin and his younger brother Benjamin are thrown into adult life in Kabul when their father leaves for Iran. Filmed by Amini himself, Kabul, City in the Wind, uses depth and detail to absorb his audience into the perilous yet routine lives of the three protagonists. He captures what he calls the “life in between [the] bombs…like the silence between the notes of a piano concert.” (Variety). The strength of the film is in its simplicity. It does not aggrandize the dangers of life in Kabul, but rather attempts to find and depict those elements of the subjects’ stories that are plainly human and universal.
The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
8. The Patience Stone, Atiq Rahimi (2012)
Atiq Rahimi collaborates with veteran screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière in this adaptation of Rahimi’s novel of the same name. The Patience Stone is the heartrending story of a beautiful 30-year-old woman (Golshifteh Farahani) caring for her older wounded husband, after a bullet in the neck leaves him in a permanent vegetative state. The burden of tending to her now helpless husband’s every need is eased with the sudden unexpected pleasure of being able to freely express herself to him for the first time. He becomes her “patience stone”, a reference to a Persian myth about a jewel to which one can express all of their worries, fears and unthinkable desires. Rahimi’s unraveling of the deliberately unnamed protagonist’s character creates a deeply emotional and gripping experience for the audience. The film is unafraid and unashamed, exploring the character’s repressed and oppressed sexuality, sensuality, desire and anguish.
The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
Be sure to come back next week for Part 3 of the series, where we take you into the world of Tajik cinema and introduce you to the Tajik films that stand out to us at FCC!