This film aims to show real Afghani village life against a backdrop of war. The director, Phil Grabsky, first visited Afghanistan after the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001. There he encountered Mir, who was first introduced in Grabsky’s 2004 documentary on Afghanistan, “The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan”.
The director then decided to follow Mir over a decade, resulting in this film which he describes as the story of “an ordinary boy living at an extraordinary time”. Mir first appears as a cheeky and rather spoilt child of eight, growing into an increasingly serious young man of 18. The poverty of Mir and his family is clear. We see the everyday challenges they all face in finding enough food to eat while hoping to get an education for Mir.
Grabsky shows everyday Afghans in all their minor trials and tribulations as very different from the stereotypes that we are usually presented with in the West. The film is also successful in showing the harsh beauty of a region we often imagine as just rock and sand. The cinematography is often stunning.
However, politically, the film has some problems, partly to do with its structure and partly to do with its message. The sequence of each section, as Mir grows towards maturity, is very similar. A very beautiful image of Afghanistan is followed by an update on Mir’s story, illustrated largely by talking heads (mainly his unpleasantly disharmonious parents and his half brother), and, finally, a brief update on the war.
The messages about the ongoing war are often diluted and individualised. Mir’s family and the director, not surprisingly, share a strong antipathy to the Taliban. However, there is limited criticism of the Western powers and their negative influence on the ordinary people of Afghanistan.
The Boy Mir has won or been nominated for some international documentary awards and has been praised for its naturalism and humanism. However, the simplistic political analysis and limited engagement with the wider critical issues it raises make watching this film somewhat disappointing and frustrating for socialists and other anti-war activists.
The Boy Mir is directed by Phil Grabsky and is out now
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