“Smiling in a War Zone” chronicles the voyage to Afghanistan taken by Danish performance artist Simone Aaberg Kaern in 2002, to help a young woman there realize her dream of becoming a pilot. Whimsical conceit will charm many viewers; others may question whether Kaern’s motivations are as selfless as she thinks. Specialized broadcast slots are signaled.
Post-9/11, Kaern reads a news story quoting an Afghan teen as longing one day to fly professionally — a forlorn hope, perhaps, given the country’s chaos and religious conservatism toward women’s freedoms. Kaern and b.f./cameraman Magnus Bejmar set off in a rickety 1961 Piper Colt to “reclaim the skies” in military-restricted air zones. After stops in Sarajevo, Iran and elsewhere, they perilously cross mountains to reach Kabul and overwhelmed high schooler Farial. But for all the pic’s cutesy-inspirational tone, it’s never so convincing as when family-pressured Farial fails to show up for an event. This prompts Kearn to sulk, “I guess you can’t expect people to accept the gift you’re bringing” — her self-pity oblivious to the problems this highly public visit might create for a teenage girl in a restrictive society. Tech aspects are OK.