The Land of The Enlightened: Pieter-Jan De Pue’s awe-inspiring debut feature
by Roberto Oggiano
- The young Belgian director paints a fascinating portrait of an Afghanistan caught between its traditions and an uncertain future
Nestling among the hidden gems at this edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam is the striking feature debut by Pieter-Jan De Pue, which goes by the name of The Land of the Enlightened [+see also:
The war in Afghanistan is over, but the war in Afghanistan will never be over. Time periods blend together – the Soviet invasion, the US invasion… It’s a never-ending conflict from which there seems to be no way out. Filmed in 16 mm, the film focuses on the beauty of a region that knows no ceasefire, a place that is constantly invaded and under attack, and where opium and lapis lazuli serve as cold, hard cash. De Pue tells the country’s story starting from the 1980s, following a group of child soldiers who are experts in supervising the smuggling of valuable goods, orphans and warlords all at once, reminding us of the law that dictates that war must entail both devastation and an opportunity for business, every single time and at any cost.
The narrative is far from linear: the editing breaks up the sections, and the images flow by smoothly on screen. Dreamlike scenes are interspersed with parody-like cutaways to the US bases, where the war is never to be taken seriously. While the warm words of the narrator’s voice are very effective, it is the images that really stick in the viewer’s mind: the vivid colours of the blue Afghan sky and the white clothes of the women and little girls soften the blow of the true atrocity of the conflict. And hovering above it all is an unsettling kind of supposed innocence, which is essential for rebuilding the now-destroyed palace of Afghanistan’s new king.
With his background in photojournalism clearly visible, De Pue has made a beeline straight into the ranks of the young, promising talents of European cinema. He is without doubt a filmmaker to keep a close eye on. Produced by Savage Film and co-produced by Submarine, Fastnet Films, Eyeworks and Gebrueder Beetz Produktion, the film will be sold abroad by Films Boutique.
(Translated from Italian)