Political Film Review #596

JIRGA RELITIGATES THE AFGHAN WAR

Because the 9/11 attack was directed by Osama Bin Laden, whose Al Qaeda group was occupying a portion of Afghanistan, the U.S. Congress authorized regime change in Kabul and defeat of the ruling Taliban. But the UN Charter makes clear that any war conducted without Security Council authorization is a war crime. The Taliban had offered to surrender Osama Bin Laden but did not have resources to deliver the entire Al Qaeda entourage, as requested by Washington, thereby serving as the pretext for the Afghan War, which involved troops from the United States and several allies. During the war many innocent civilians have been killed, also a war crime, and therefore the U.S. army in many cases paid families for their loss.

Directed by Benjamin Gilmour, Jirga begins with video footage of a bombing operation and soon the title “Three Years Later” appears on the screen. Mike Wheeler (played by Sam Smith) arrives in Kabul with a lot of money taped to his chest, checks into a hotel, fails to get assistance from an Afghan general (Muhammad Shah Majroh), and then seeks a taxi driver (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad) to “tour” the country. When he proposes Kandahar, the driver refuses, proposing another province instead, so Wheeler agrees. Cinematography of the beauty of mountainous Afghanistan soon validates the driver’s choice.

Along the road Wheeler establishes a warm relationship with the driver and succeeds in getting him to drive toward Kandahar. At a checkpoint, the driver warns Wheeler, who then escapes gunfire in a trek across the mountains until he is captured by a group of four armed local residents. Chained as a prisoner, Wheeler finally reveals why he seems to be on a strange journey—to achieve redemption by compensating a family for accidentally killing their unarmed father outside their house while a soldier in the Australian army. The foursome then release him and promise to deliver him toward the Kandahar community where he seeks to ease his soul. But they discourage him from offering money, which they consider “cursed,” as Afghans consider the monetization of life—and the war itself—to be offensive.  After he throws away the cash, he makes his way on foot to the town.

Soon after arrival, the mother shows grief and the community holds a jirga, a traditional community forum with adult men in one section, boys in another, to decide Wheeler’s fate. The decision follows a discussion based on traditional norms, which will impress filmviewers (as have all the Afghans who have shared opinions throughout the film). Whether the film will impact Washington remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the Political Film Society has nominated Jirga as best film promoting peace of 2019.  MH

15 MINUTES OF WAR CELEBRATES HOW LONG TERRORISTS WERE SHOT DOWN

Based on an incident in 1976, Somali terrorists kidnapped a bus of 31 children going to school in the French colony of Djibouti. The Somalis wanted to exchange the kids for release of their brethren. Paris sought negotiations while a small group of sharpshooters waited 30 hours in oppressive heat for orders to attack. 15 Minutes of War (L’intervention), directed by Fred Grivois, devotes much attention to trivial conversation until Captain André Gerval (played by Alban Lenoir) finally decides to give an unauthorized order to attack, which kills the Somalis yet with one dead child.

Despite the thin story, which could have provided more depth by demonstrating incompetence in Paris, the Political Film Society has nominated 15 Minutes of War as best film exposé of 2019 for bringing to light a forgotten episode that served (according to credits at the end) in building a corps of hostage fighters and brought independence to the country in 1977.  MH