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Jung (War) in the Land of the Mujaheddin

Unsparing look at Afghanistan just before the (latest) maelstrom, "Jung" won a Human Rights Watch award this year for courageous filmmaking and was voted best docu at the Vancouver fest. It's hard to picture viewers who would disagree, as this unforgettable Italian pic takes us further into that country's misery and intoxicating brand of madness.

Unsparing look at Afghanistan just before the (latest) maelstrom, “Jung” won a Human Rights Watch award this year for courageous filmmaking and was voted best docu at the Vancouver fest. It’s hard to picture viewers who would disagree, as this unforgettable Italian pic takes us further into that country’s misery and intoxicating brand of madness than any other film record so far. Currently playing in New York, timeliness factor could cut it a wider path in the West.

Producers probably will need English-lingo voiceovers for longest possible tube life. (A 75-minute version makes its North American premiere Dec. 12, on TVOntario.) Definitive pic likely will be plundered for future docus and written records.

By focusing, in hand-held closeups, on the tireless efforts of one surgeon from Milan, the crusty Gino Strada, plus unflappable English nurse Kate Rowlands, veteran journalist Ettore Mo and others, the bare-bones pic offers a glimmer of steely hope for the future, and also exposes us to families literally torn apart by landmines and a civil war being fought in perpetuity.

“Not even death wants the people of Afghanistan,” says one of numerous women ready to flip off their burkas for the camera. Montage of women begging in the streets, culminating in a tiny girl being engulfed by the suffocating cloak, is almost as harrowing as images of children displaying their bloody stumps. There are also some gruesome surgical scenes.

Impressive in a different way — and one that complements views of the country’s frighteningly craggy landscape — is Strada’s meeting with the charismatic commander Massoud, whose assassination just before Sept. 11 was yet another huge kick in the heart for the struggling nation. (There’s also an interview with the far-more-furtive Rabbani, already poised to reclaim his presidency.)

On-the-fly video lensing conveys tremendous immediacy, as pic makers stumble into combat situations, drive past rows of dusty tanks just north of Kabul or talk to fighters and ordinary villagers, many of whom view the Taliban as “foreigners and servants of Pakistan” — the mirror image of Bin Laden’s take on all outsiders as infidels. What emerges isn’t a land filled with “evil-doers,” in President Bush’s archaic locution, but one driven by poverty, institutionalized confusion and purposely misdirected passions. “I love my countrymen,” says one Italian Afghan at the start, preparing for his long-awaited return home, “but they will always need war to live.”

Jung (War) in the Land of the Mujaheddin

Italy-Afghanistan

  • Production: A Human Rights Watch Intl. release of a Karousel Films (Rome) production, in association with Elleto & Co. Produced by Giuseppe Petitto. Directed by Alberto Vendemmiati, Fabrizio Lazzaretti.
  • Crew: Camera (color, BetaSP), Vendemmiati, Lazzaretti; editor, Giuseppe Petitto; music, Mario Crispi; sound (Dolby), Vendemmiati. Reviewed on videocassette, Vancouver, Oct. 11, 2001. (In Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 114 MIN.
  • With: <B>With:</B> Gino Strada, Kate Rowlands, Ettore Mo.<br> (Italian, Dara, Pashtun, Tajik and English dialogue.)