Review: ‘Opium War’

Two downed U.S. soldiers in rural Afghanistan happen upon an opium-producing family living under a Soviet tank in "Opium War," Siddiq Barmak's baffling second feature.

Two downed U.S. soldiers in rural Afghanistan happen upon an opium-producing family living under a Soviet tank in “Opium War,” Siddiq Barmak’s baffling second feature. As in “Osama,” the Afghan writer-helmer again uses a non-pro cast, but the result is stifled by poorly written English dialogue and a failure to reconcile apparent realism with occasional detours into absurdist tragicomedy. “War” inexplicably won best film (from a jury composed entirely of critics) at the Rome fest, and represents Afghanistan in the foreign-language Oscar race.

A white officer, Don Johnson (Peter Bussian), and his black subordinate, Joe (Joe Suba), crawl out of their helicopter into a poppy field in northern Afghanistan. In one of pic’s many cliches, Johnson is a smart brute, while Joe, from Harlem, isn’t knowledgeable about anything except opium. However, their continuous bickering pales in comparison to the goings-on in the clan of the local one-legged patriarch (Hamid Hozouri), who owns the field. “Osama” protag Marina Golbahari (who also did continuity duty) co-stars as a mad member of the barmy family. Some striking visual compositions and a locally flavored score are the only standout tech contributions.

Opium War

Afghanistan-Japan-South Korea-France

Production

A Barmak Film (Afghanistan)/Happinet Corp. (Japan)/Cineclick Asia (Fantom) (South Korea)/Haut & Court Distribution (France) presentation of a Barmak Film production, in association with Happinet Corp., Cineclick Asia (Fantom), Haut & Court Distribution. (International sales: Cineclick, Seoul.) Produced by Shohreh Golpareian, Siddiq Barmak. Executive producers, Kawashima, Scotta, Kim Do-hun. Co-producers, Haruo Kawashima, Suh Young-joo, Carole Scotta. Directed, written by Siddiq Barmak, based on an idea by Dawoud Wahab.

Crew

Camera (color), Georgi Dzulaiev; editor, Michele Hickson; music, Daler Nazarov; production designer, Bakhteyar Qaharov; costume designer, Ayub Omar. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (competing), Oct. 25, 2008. Dari, English dialogue. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Peter Bussian, Joe Suba, Fawad Samani, Jawanmard Paiez, Marina Golbahari, Hamid Hozouri, Berrshna Bahar.
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