MOVIE REVIEW: The Land of the Enlightened

Documentary where we look at a few different stories on modern-day Afghanistan. The film starts by telling the tale of how the first King of Afghanistan was given the country by God, who called it his Garden. We see that this term, God’s Garden, is not a term that is used lightly as if you take humanity out the picture it would be a beautiful place. The photography used here shows the natural enchanting landscape that is this most troubled of areas.

I don’t know the full story of what happens in Afghanistan, there are many a historian that can give you that information, and these days I’m meant to know more about each Superhero that comes on TV or the Silver Screen than World events. The bits I do know is that a lot of countries that could do better looking after their own lands have decided to try take over Afghanistan. This documentary takes place in 2014 just as President Obama is cutting down the number of United States troops that are deployed there. We see a young boy, who can’t be more than 12, and his army of young boys making a living by hijacking travelers through a vast landscape. They may not have gone through puberty yet but they have AK-47’s and a willingness to use them. We then see the rare rocks and opium smugglers who try to use these boys to get their goods into the hands of the men who will trade them for bullets and weapons. Then the film makers decided to show us the American Troops who are painted as trigger happy men just ready to shoot guns.

There is a huge disconnect here, a number of different stories are shown, but you don’t feel anything for any of them. The young boy leading a small army of young boys could have, and you know what, should have been the only focus of the documentary. Not that the other parts don’t warrant being told, they do, but there is a feeling that the film makers didn’t know what to do. However, the young boy wants to prove himself to the father of the girl he wants to marry, he’s no more than 12, and this girl is no more than 6. It’s a strange cultural thing, but he’s very respectful of her, and truly believes in his mission to gain money and power so that he can prove to her father that he is worthy of her.

I love a good documentary and sadly that’s not what we have here. We have beautiful scenery that is elegantly shot and a promise of opening our eyes to the world that the Afghanistan people face now that the American army is drastically reducing their presence there. You’ll be horrified by some moments, like when the children are clearing the land mines to sell for scrap, which was shocking and tense. You’ll also laugh at some moments before the horrid reality kicks back in.

A few bright moments and good cinematography cannot save this film. We are left in a bad state after this film ends. Why? Because it’s a documentary that does not give us a clear story. It does not tell us why these children are all running around with AK’s, I can guess why, but it’s not a who done it murder mystery, it is a documentation of their lives. We see the US Rangers painted as a bunch of hicks just wanting to get their guns off, not the reason they are firing and bombing, nothing about the people these men are protecting. We see smugglers but don’t get a clear picture of the benefits and pit falls of their operations. Finally we see guns and ammunition coming into the country but no text or narration to show how it got there, or who is making cash from it.

There is a documentary in here, I’m sure if the film makers go back to their unused footage and give us some more information we’ll see something come good from this. I can’t tell you that you will be more enlightened from watching this, I wasn’t, and that’s a horrible way to leave a documentary.

Director: Pieter-Jan De Pue
Writers: Pieter-Jan De Pue (script), David Dusa (script), Herwig Deweerdt (voiceover)
Stars: Gholam Nasir, Khyrgyz Baj, Noor

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