Monday, 23 July 2018

Jirga: NZIFF Review

Jirga: NZIFF Review

Although it begins with soldiers taking a compound by storm in Afghanistan through the viewing lens of night time vision, Jirga's less a film about soldier bravura and more a film that's about one soldier wrestling with a conscience.

Former Home and Away alumnus Sam Smith plays Mike Wheeler, who, as the film begins, can be seen heading back to Afghanistan with a money belt secreted around his body.

It's no secret to reveal he's off to make amends for what happened in the raid mentioned above, but what Jirga is more interested in doing is a sort of parable about atonement and guilt - the religious allusions of which aren't lost by director Benjamin Gilmour sending his lead shambling through the desert at one point.

But if the path trodden by this clandestine drama (it was shot on the quiet in Afghanistan after permits were denied in Pakistan) is all too familiar in terms of its themes, its quiet splendour is obvious as the journey plays out.

It's sparse in extremis, but Gilmour makes good fist of the landscape, even finding a way to incorporate a pink flamingo pedalo into proceedings that contrasts nicely with the stark arid deserts all around.
Jirga: NZIFF Review

"Forgiveness is better than revenge" is uttered at one point in the film, and Smith provides the internal conflict with a human face as the guilt becomes evident. There's a sense here that this is about giving voice to the human side of conflict, and as such, while admirable, aside from how the film is presented and shot, it's not a new conceit.

There are some narrative leaps - Wheeler manages to persuade his apparently violent captors of his benevolent journey when cornered, but Jirga never loses face or furore when the end comes. Granted, its profundity is more of the smaller variety than anything bigger, but that's perhaps Gilmour's intentions.

The power and the rawness of the eventual meeting between Wheeler and the family he's wronged may ache with reality, but by resisting a desire to overplay it, Gilmour and Smith make the film something a little different.

Not entirely successful in its execution (perhaps a sense of the denial of permits and the clandestine nature of filming muted some of the plans) and with very familiar themes, Jirga manages to achieve more than you'd expect with an almost spiritual level of commitment and debate all round.

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