Monday, August 21, 2006

STRAY DOGS/SAG-HAYE VALGARD - a moving tale of Afghani orphans

STRAY DOGS is a film by Iranian writer-director Marzieh Meshkini. It is set in contemporary Afghanistan and in just over ninety minutes gives you a slice of life for two young kids - Gol-Ghotai and her brother Zahed. Their father has been imprisoned by the invading American forces, later to be shipped off to Gitmo. He is a Talibani. Their mother has been imprisoned by their father for taking another husband when she presumed the first was dead. In other words, she is an adulteress. As a result, the two children are effectively orphaned.

What I love about this film is that the kids, especially the girl, have plucky characters without being saccharine-goody-goody Disney kids. Their logical appeals to various prison guards, friends of their parents and market-sellers are heart-breaking without appearing too manipulative. I also think this is a remarkably even-handed film. The injustices of the Taliban rule are clear without being rammed down our throat. And while there is a bit of whining about the US invasion, the young kids have equal if not greater resentment for the Russians and the Taliban.

Similarly, the director has forsaken all formal attempts to manipulate the audience. There is no sweeping orchestral score - no flashy camera-work - no non-linear editing. The director relies on the power of the story to get the message across. At all times this is a highly moving, oftentimes funny, but never sentimental movie. If you can find it, I can strongly recommend it.

STRAY DOGS played Venice, Toronto and London 2004. It also played Paris where the little girl, Gol Ghotai, won the prize for Best Actress. STRAY DOGS finally got a cinematic release in France, Belgium and Turkey in 2005. It is currently on limited release in the UK.

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