Barbarians at the Gate

The winner of this year's Nestor Almendros prize for courageous and committed filmmaking, Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin shows the destruction wrought on Afghanistan by the Taliban regime. Filmmakers Alberto Vendemmiati, Fabrizio Lazzaretti, and Giuseppe Pettito travel with a surgeon and a war correspondent who are trying to set up a hospital, officially for land-mine victims but in fact for all victims of violence. Crossing a landscape that's strewn with the wreckage of 20 years of war (before the CIA-aided Taliban takeover, the Russians ravaged the country), the filmmakers come under fire from Taliban guns and tanks, talk to maimed and terrorized children and adults, and try to wrest some small hope from an almost unrelievedly grim situation. At once intimate and epic, Jung makes Mohsen Makhmalbaf's overpraised Cannes competition film Kandahar (about an Afghan woman trying to rescue her suicidal sister) seem thin and contrived.

An outstanding American entry, Bestor Cram and Mike Majoros's Unfinished Symphony revisits a historic protest staged by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Lexington, Massachusetts. To cap three days of marches and street theater, the vets staged an illegal sleep-in on the site of the first battle of the American Revolution. The filmmakers edit together footage of the demonstration, on-the-spot interviews, and TV news coverage of the war. Set to Henryk Gorecki's "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," the collage retains something of its original impact, but distanced by the music—and the passage of 30 years—it also takes on a haunting quality. With the military-industrial complex once again poised to run wild over the U.S. economy, these ghosts of protests past couldn't be more relevant. A brief section of the film is devoted to the Winter Soldier hearings, in which vets testified about acts they came to view as atrocities, including the slaughter of innocent Vietnamese villagers. (It puts the recent Bob Kerrey affair in perspective.) Unfinished Symphony is politically potent as long as the veterans' voices dominate. Unfortunately the film turns mushy when the filmmakers attempt an overview. What could be more lame than ending with "Give Peace a Chance."

Mission statement: Kingsley and Winstone in Sexy Beast
photo: Nick Wall
Mission statement: Kingsley and Winstone in Sexy Beast


Sexy Beast
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto
Fox Searchlight

12th Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
Walter Reade
June 15 through 28

Related articles:

Lenora Todaro's review of Life and Debt.

Greg Tate's profile of Life and Debt director Stephanie Black.

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