Dir/scr: Shahrbanoo Sadat. Denmark/France/Sweden/ Afghanistan. 2016. 84 mins
Poised on the blurry border between drama and documentary, Wolf And Sheep captures village life in a dusty, sun-bleached corner of Afghanistan where little has changed in generations. Based on an unpublished diary and filmed in nearby Tajikistan, this accomplished autobiographical first feature from writer/director Shahrbanoo Sadat builds into an observant, quietly beguiling portrait of the rituals and traditions, tensions and rivalries in the community and gains a little extra spice in the sprinkling of magic realist notions that Sadat adds to the mixture.
This is a community where status matters and is measured in the fertility of a wife, the number of livestock you own or the amount of dung you are able to transform into fuel.
This may be slight and unassuming, but the unfamiliar perspective on Afghanistan life plus the Directors’ Fortnight prize should guarantee extensive festival exposure for Wolf And Sheep and pique the curiosity of both niche arthouse distributors and supporters of new talent.
Sadat chooses to place her focus largely on the children of the village; hard-working youngsters who herd the goats and sheep but in many respects are just the same as children the world over in their flirting and fighting, bullying and ability to get into trouble. The whole village is divided along gender lines as the women cook, the girls herd goats whilst the men settle disputes and the boys strive to gain expertise in the handling of some fairly lethal slingshots. One boy loses an eye to the poor aim of an inexpert friend.
This is a community where status matters and is measured in the fertility of a wife, the number of livestock you own or the amount of dung you are able to transform into fuel. Qodrat (Qodratollah Qadiri) faces the death of his father in the film’s earliest scenes and his position in the community grows increasingly precarious when his mother marries a local man and no longer wishes to keep her children. Sediqa (Sediqa Rasuli) is often shunned or bullied by the other girls but finds an ally in Qodrat and they have touching scenes together as they bond over the proper braiding of a slingshot.
Storytelling is a key part of village life with cautionary tales of punishment and revenge recounted that involve treacherous white snakes, green fairies and the feared Kashmiri wolf that walks on two feet. Sadat briefly brings the legends to life but that real threat to the village lies from a more predictable source in an Afghanistan where daily life has become so precarious.
Wolf and Sheep is a confidently crafted film with a smooth flow, expert camerawork from Virginie Surdej and unselfconscious, naturalistic performances from the a non-professional cast where the younger members radiate a sense of being endlessly curious about the world and able to relish the possibilities of the moment.
There are so many pitfalls in bringing a partly crowdfunded enterprise like Wolf And Sheep to the screen, from putting non-professional actors at ease to shaping the narrative, that it is easy to underestimate what Sadat has so gracefully achieved. Wolf And Sheep is simple but sincere, respectful and heartfelt and marks the arrival of a promising new talent.
Production companies: Adomeit Films, La Fabrica Nocturna Productions, Film Väst, Zentropa Sweden, Wolf Pictures,
International sales: Alpha Violet, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Katja Adomeit
Cinematography: Virginie Surdej
Editor: Alexandra Strauss
Main cast: Sediqa Rasuli, Qodratollah Qadiri, Amina Musavi, Sahar Karimi.