Polish documakers Marcin Mamon and Mariusz Pilis drop in on a succession of warlords, clan leaders, emirs and mullahs united by Dar al-Islam, “the abode of Islam,” from Chechnya to the Afghan-Pakistan border, in the harrowing, eye-opening “The Smell of Paradise.” Educational for jihad-junkies and neophytes alike, on-the-fly pic may be too grungy for bigscreen play but would rep a revelatory tube event in Western countries and could sustain good fest and ancillary life.
A decade in the making, this work is a testament to the tenacity and bravery of helmers, who travel from Kabul to Kandahar in search of prominent purveyors of the absolutist Islamic line: Believe in Allah and his teachings, or remain ignorant.
Co-helmer Pilis narrates in measured, Polish-accented English. Subjects profiled include former Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, who is seen watering his plants and playing Ping-Pong in his Qatar exile two weeks prior to being killed by Russian agents in February 2004.
“God doesn’t set territorial borders,” he points out. And, later: “Criminal politicians hide behind Christianity… Democrats in the West make laws that deprave people without limit.”
Pic then backpedals to a late 1990s talk with Chechen warlord and spiritual leader Hamzat Gilaev, who insists he’s fighting “for truth and justice.” He died in Dagestan mountain fighting two years later.
Jordanian emir Al Chattab avows “we strike only when someone attacks us or our faith,” while Chechen Mafia godfather Hozh-Ahmed Noukhaev asserts “the strength of Islam comes from the truth.” Other men profiled include Chechen terrorist Shamil Basaev and Afghan emir Ishmael Khan.
That many of these interviewees are now dead is a testament not only to the volatile place of these teachings in world affairs, but the ever-shifting tensions among the various factions. Though auds may have difficulty sorting out the geopolitical nuances, two thoughts are apparent: This is a violent milieu, and Westerners cannot access this information through conventional news channels.
In this light, pic plays like a high-stakes thriller, complete with murky linkages and furtive pronouncements. In the end, Western auds will come away with a better sense of why they hate us.
Tech credits are rough, which impairs the presentation, if not the impact, of the content. Helmers have been networking among the muhajedeen for a decade, and their films include “Allah Akbar Means God Is Great,” “The Price of Truth” and the upcoming “Chechnya: The Dirty War.”