Dir. Atiq Rahimi.France/Afghanistan, 2004. 105mins.

Any future attempt tocompile a visual history of the destructive folly which took hold of the humanrace at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st,will surely allocate a place of honour to this emblematic debut by Paris-basedAfghan film maker Atiq Rahimi.

Going back to his nativeland to record a story that could take place at any time within the last 20years, Rahimi, working from his own novel, uses a simple, unadorned storyline,on which he latches an allegory of three generations, each one devastated inits own way, by the constant war being waged around for reasons no one canpossibly fathom.

Though by normal Westernstandards the picture is way too slow - this being as much about the dimensionof time in this part of the world as it is about the tragedies there - and attimes self-indulgent, Rahimi's picture redeems itself with spectacularwide-screen landscapes and shapes and tonalities that are often more eloquentthan anything the script can attempt to deliver.

Given the dearth offictional material available from Afghanistan at this point, there is verylittle doubt that film events the world over will embrace this contribution andspecialized distributors should definitely have a look.

An old man, Dastaguir (AbdulGhani), holding the hand of his five years old grandson, Yassin, crosses thevast, barren, undulating yellow hills of north Afghanistan, burned dry by thestark, pitiless light of the sun. They are looking for Dastaguir's son and theboy's father, Murad, who is working on a mine, up in the mountains, to deliverthe tragic news that all their family has been mowed down when their villagewas taken over by the army, Murad's wife committing suicide after having beendragged out of the hammam and raped by soldiers.

Most of the picture takesplace on a half-wrecked bridge, at one end the shack of the guard at thebarrier of the road leading to the mine, at the other end, another shack wherea refugee from Kabul sells food and imparts wise counsels to the rarepassers-by crossing the desert.

As they are waiting for aride uphill, the old man, fearful that his son might lose his mind when hehears the news, doubts whether he should embark on this last leg of hisjourney. Meanwhile the little boy, who does not realize he has lost his hearingduring the bombing of the village and thinks instead that everybody around himhas become mute, is playing inside the shell of an old burned-out Soviet tank.

Desolate characters crosstheir path. They include a widow and her daughter who come every single day tothe bridge and sitting in the shadow of the tank for no evident reason; two menin a truck collecting carcasses of animals blown up by explosive mines, theonly flowers blossoming in this desolation; a soldier who went berserk whenordered to ransack his own village and turned his gun on his sergeant instead;and a truck driver who finally takes the old man up to the mine for a meetingthat will never take place with his son.

The close visual landscaperelation with certain Iranian films is undeniable, and Rahimi duly pays tributeto them (a man coming from nowhere,carrying a door on his back, recalls Makhmalbaf's episode in the KishStories). He makes remarkable use of sound, particularly to underline theboy's unwitting isolation in his deafness. The brief flashes of the villagesacking that torment old Dastaguir throughout contain probably the first evershots of a completely nude woman in an Islamic picture, the victim of the rape runningaway into a burning house.

The choice ofnon-professional actors is particularly effective. Abdul Ghani, as the old man,seems to have the entire suffering of the world etched on his face, while theboy, Jawan Ward Homayoun, is perfect, having none of the cute endearingqualities of professional moppets. Finally, the allegory is evident: the pastis a vale of tears and the future is already mutilated. As for the present, itis simply absent.

Prod co: Les Films du Lendemain, Afghan Film
Dimitri de Clercq
Int'l sales: Mercure International / Films Distribution
Kambozia Partovi, Atiq Rahimi
Eric Guichard
Ursula Lesiak
Prod des:
Jean-Luc Le Floc'h
Andre Rigaut, Selim Azzazi, Bruno Tarriere
Main cast:
Abdul Ghani, Jawan Ward Homayoun, Walli Tallosh, GuildaChahverdi, Kader Arefi, Mirza Hussein, Shir Agha, Azim