The Land of the Enlightened review – an opium dream of Afghanistan

Afghanistan 0 Comment 10

Seven years of beautifully intimate footage from ‘God’s garden’ are hazily structured into this documentary of a mysterious country

In souping up straight documentary footage with dramatised re-enactments, song and shards of myth, Belgian film-maker Pieter-Jan de Pue seems like another seeker after Herzog’s ecstatic truth. He certainly finds it in “God’s garden” Afghanistan, weaving together visual flotsam from several places: child brigands waylaying caravans, child scavengers digging up Soviet landmines, and a pair of military outposts. Beautifully intimate 16mm photography and a hazy structure make the film feel like an opium dream of an Adam Curtis documentary; a ragtag, lyrical companion to fellow Afghan docs Restrepo and Taxi to the Dark Side. With politics relegated to sarky juxtapositions – a hawk hovering opportunistically over hillsides being pulverised by US shells – the American presence registers as a footnote in a bigger historical mystery. All the more beguiling for a storehouse of priceless imagery collected by De Pue over seven years, which registers more strongly than proscriptive attempts to deploy the kids (in staged segments) as a national allegory. This is also possibly the only film in which you can witness a tube of lapis lazuli being rammed up a donkey’s arse.

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