THE LAND OF THE ENLIGHTENED (Belgium | Ireland | Netherlands | Germany | Afghanistan/15A/87mins)
Directed by Pieter-Jan De Pue. Starring Gholam Nasir, Khyrgyz Baj, Noor, Zulfu, Koko Ewas
THE PLOT: Child soldiers in Afghanistan patrol the deserts of the country, acting as bandits, while dreaming of the day that US troops finally pull out of their land.
THE VERDICT: ‘The Land of the Enlightened’ is a strange film to say the least. Documentary and fiction blend together to try and tell a story, but this ends up being spotty and confusing to the audience. As well as this, jumping between the kids and the US troops adds nothing to the story. Voice over tells the audience that Afghanistan is – according the myth and legend – God’s Garden that he gifted to the Afghan people, but they treat it as anything but. Drugs and ammunition flow freely here, as the children barter for everything they want in life, and run free and as wild, like a modern day version of Lord of the Flies.
There is a story to be told at the heart of ‘The Land of the Enlightened’, but the really interesting tale is that of the gang of child bandits. We never learn who they are, how they ended up in this situation or where their parents or guardians are, so it is hard to root for these drug running, violent kids. The plot is a mess, jumping from US troops shooting seemingly at nothing, to voiceover about Afghan myth, to these kids killing livestock and squabbling over the cooked animal’s brains.
In all, there is nothing really to learn from ‘The Land of the Enlightened’. There are times when a story could take place, and people about whom the audience is curious, but director Pieter-Jan De Pue never expands these, and seems to be happy enough just watching people drift around the Afghan wastelands, and squabble over a land where everyone is simply trying to survive. This ‘Lord of the Flies’-esque film simply does not answer the questions that it poses, and feels drifting and without a purpose.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    The ravaging effects of the current war in Afghanistan are encapsulated in Land Of The Enlightened. It’s a docudrama which looks at different perspectives – those of the native Afghans and those of the American soldiers patrolling the war-torn landscape.

    Narrated by an Afghan man who relates the story of his land in both historical and current terms, it starts with a group of kids who wander the varying landscapes looking for spent shells and cartridges. They also disarm old Soviet mines and sell the explosive parts to traders. They hang about a graveyard of rusting tanks, playing at war and pretending to be the soldiers that came before them. Their life is a destitute one, but they scrabble to make a living, dreaming of a time when American soldiers will depart. Speaking of which, the story then switches to bunkers and outposts. American soldiers fortify their positions and fight off the Taliban, while also seeking the help of local Afghan villagers, who may know more than they appear…

    Peter-Jan De Pue’s debut feature documentary was 7 years in the making. Shot on 16mm, which accounts for occasional hairs and specks of dirt on the digital print, De Pue’s film is an observational one. Less fly on the wall, more eye in the sky. At one point, he captures a magnificent bird as it hovers over a warzone, much like a drone. The shells fall not long after, scaring it away. His camera roves around this stark, desolate landscape, beautiful in a way but also scarred. Afghanistan in the snow is not something you see everyday. There’s far more to this constantly-invaded land than outwardly appears on news reports. De Pue is keen to show the real Afghanistan and how the ongoing war has affected it. It’s an admirable move which doesn’t judge, but simply shows and tells.

    That said though, the film doesn’t really have much direction. It’s a series of snapshots of life in modern Afghanistan, rather than an overall whole. There’s a story running throughout the film involving the group of kids which is affecting, considering that they’re the ones who will inherit the future, once the American soldiers leave. However, there’s no real sense that they’re aware of what’s happened in their country. Picking up shells and precious stones becomes a game with an opportunistic angle. This is where an interviewer is needed to add more depth and relevance. Land Of The Enlightened is a film with mixed results, but the overall impression is one of a decent stab at looking at the real Afghanistan and its people. A hopeful one and hopefully a brighter future for this damaged but beautiful country. ***