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  Wolf and Sheep Afghan Stars
Year: 2016
Director: Shahrbanoo Sadat
Stars: Qodrat, Sediqa, various
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the mountains of Afghanistan there are pockets of civilisation, tiny villages who interact with one another over great distances, and in one of those a community of sheep herders have suffered a bereavement of one of their number. He had a cancerous tumour in his leg, and that has killed him leaving his wife and four children to fend for themselves; one of his sons is Qodrat (playing himself) who is a shepherd as most of the children on this location are, but now he wonders what the future holds as gossip concerning his widowed mother cannot help but reach him. Yet the people of this region are keen storytellers, whether that be telling tales about each other or relaying the legends passed down through countless generations...

Wolf and Sheep was an unusual film for a few reasons, almost all of them to do with its origins and manufacture. Its director was a fresh out of film school Afghan woman, Shahrbanoo Sadat, who had been a refugee with her family in Iran for the first years of her life, before moving back to her homeland and a place not unlike the village and its surroundings depicted in her work here. While there she grew keen to express herself outside of the normal avenues afforded to an Afghan woman, and that meant making stories for the screen, her inspiration being a good friend she met in that village, an older man who took her under his wing. He kept diaries, and it was those which were her more specific inspiration when seeking a narrative.

Therefore this was a work of autobiography in a way, imagining what life would have been like if Sadat had met her friend when they were both children and extrapolating their relationship from there. They were not exactly a romantic couple in this case, we never see them sharing sweet nothings and the most intimate they get is communing over the boy, Qodrat, and his talent with fashioning a particular type of slingshot, also his subsequent skill at firing stones from it, which the girl, Sediqa (also playing "herself"), fancies trying herself, a not so subtle indication that by adopting a boys' activity she has her sights set on more ambitious experiences than simply staying in the same village for the rest of her life.

Sadat chose her cast from the children of a village like the one she had grown up in for a few years at least, additionally recruiting their relatives to fill out the grown-up roles, which offered the performances a fresh, untutored yet entirely naturalistic air. She had started with the documentary form, and though this effort was fictional that technique was evident in how she guided her players to behave, allowing them to more or less be themselves even as they stuck to her script, not that they read and learned particular roles and lines. There was an anecdotal feel to much of what we saw, pretty much everything in fact, including the more dramatic episodes such as the sequence where the slingshot practice went horribly wrong, with the deceptively casual presentation only contributing to the authenticity.

Only the lapses into fantasy, which were few and far between, jarred; fair enough, they were much discussed by the characters but to actually witness the arrival of the naked green fairy or the Kashmir wolf (that was, what the West would term a werewolf), was so bizarre that it broke the spell of the rest of it instead of concocting the magic realist quality of living so close to nature and those mysterious mountains. Although there were arguments and things went wrong, notably when Qodrat is forced by circumstances beyond his control to give up a stable environment, the most pressing aspect of Afghan life, that which hit the headlines across the globe as the war against the sort of radical Muslims the tribe we saw here would not want anything to do with, was entirely absent. They simply did not mention it, it was not an important part of their existence as if they were in a bubble of their own away from the rest of the tumultuous world... until the very end, paving the way to the next part in Sadat's planned series of films about Qodrat, and the effect was dismaying, as you imagine was the idea. A strange (and strangely sweary), vivid account that demonstrated film had the power to bring every corner of the planet to every other corner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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