Tag Archives: movie recco

Siddiq Barmak's Opium War

Opium War: Comedy of Decadence


Siddiq Barmak's Opium War

Today’s Recco is Siddiq Barmak’s Opium War.

Two Afghan warriors crash land in the Afghan Desert, lose track of their base and finally realizes that an eccentric family of Opium farmers is the only human existence in the vicinity. The family head is an one legged warrior, weather beaten and exhausted with his war ravaged nation. He has multiple wives and scores of children and they all live inside an abandoned Russian tank. Initially, the stranded soldiers observe them from a distance but they cannot remain hidden for long. Also, they realize the “value” of what is being grown around them and use it as a solution to all their miseries and anxieties. Soon, in a classic about turn of authority, they find themselves working as laborers in those poppy fields. But with time, both sides get accustomed to each other and wait for their fate.

With the plot mentioned above, one can see the deliberate plotting to play with diverse genres and issues. It deliberately covers the sad turn of events in the war torn nation with dark humor but while doing so, it never loses track of the social turmoil that Afghanistan has been going through. It has been shot in Afghanistan with mostly unknown cast except Marina Golbahari who starred in the director’s seminal work, Osama. But a more interesting piece of trivia here is that the director managed to convince post Taliban government to allow him to cultivate poppy just for shooting this film.

Opium War is a film laden with deep sarcasm. After tragic and hard hitting Osama, Barmak decides to explore humor in this film and does it successfully by juggling elements of stoner flicks as well as socio-political satire. At the same time, he makes sure that he makes his real point, that of the decadence of his society. While black humor coveys most of his anguish and desperation, it becomes much more emotional when we hear the soliloquy of the disillusioned Afghan man striving to get back a respectable life. Opium war does not hit one hard like Osama. But it makes critical commentary of its society in an amusing manner. However, what is more heartening is that people like Barmak are not only bringing Afghan cinema back from extinction, but also making quality contributions to world cinema without getting affected by circumstances.

KINATAY Screenshot

Kinatay: Butchered Beyond Redemption


Today’s recco is Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay (Butchered… literally!), a film that won Prix de la Mise en Scene for the director but was also trashed by Roger Ebert for reasons somewhat beyond my comprehension.

When one’s only previous experience with Filipino cinema is exploitation softcores made in the 80’s, it is easy to have misdirected expectations. But at the same time, Kinatay’s Cannes triumph led to conflicting expectations on my part. For a film that deals with familiar themes of corruption, poverty and crime, it had to offer something more to impress and thankfully Mendoza’s dark, gritty, minimalist and overwhelming realism achieves that objective effectively.

Kinatay shows a day in the life of a police academy student. He desperately needs money to marry his girlfriend and hence accepts a lucrative assignment for good money. As the night progresses he gradually discovers the actual motive of that assignmnet that involves abduction, rape and eventual murder of a prostitute (Please don’t consider it as a spoiler, there is more to this film).

KINATAY Screenshot

Maria Isabel Lopez in Kinatay

To be honest, Kinatay does test the patience of its viewers. A lot of people walked out during the screening. First due to slow and tedious progress and extremely dark lighting and later on due to sex and violence which was considered explicit by some. I personally did not find them explicit but build up was definitely tiresome to an extent. Besides, the lighting, or the lack of it, can get into your nerves although no one can deny its realism.

In any case, Kinatay is a bold attempt simply because it does not compromise with its stark and bleak vision. There are no heroics and no preaching, just pure helplessness of a common man in a decadent system. Also, since I started by mentioning 80’s Pinay sexploitation films, here is a random piece of trivia, actress Marial Isabel Lopez, who plays the pivotal role here, was one of the major stars of that genre in the 80’s. You can check out Silip to see more of her along with one more favourite of mine, Sarsi Emmanuelle.