Wolf and Sheep: Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2016: Young Shahrbanoo Sadat brings us a contemplative yet verbose film that shows us a secret side of Afghanistan that has yet to be violated
Shahrbanoo Sadat is, in many respects, a one-of-a-kind filmmaker. She is, for starters, an Afghan director and producer who works in Afghanistan – although for her debut feature film, Wolf and Sheep [+see also:
interview: Shahrbanoo Sadat
film profile], which has been selected for Directors’ Fortnight at this year’s 69th Cannes Film Festival, she had the support of a Danish producer and other European partners. Her age is also worth mentioning, as this ward of Cannes, who was selected in the same section in 2011 with her short film Vice Versa One, became, in 2010, at the tender age of 20, the youngest participant of Cinéfondation, with the very film that she is presenting this year. Last but not least, the world that she opens a window onto with this pastoral yet verbose film is completely new (to us). Indeed, Wolf and Sheep brings us face to face with a community of poor farmers and shepherds nestled among the bare mountains, in a small town faraway from the fierce country it belongs to, where ancient traditions and legends still live on, intact but fragile in the face of the ever-constant threat that hangs over this hamlet – like a nocturnal she-wolf moving slowly but relentlessly closer to the sheep pen.
From its contemplative opening to its tragically hasty ending, the film, which is accompanied from start to finish by the jingling of the bells worn by the sheep, is steeped in this mix of protected peacefulness and unrest. The leading role of children in this well-rounded yet (gently) fragmented tale reflects a contradiction of the same kind, adorning the film with innocence but also responsibility. Indeed, whilst having lost nothing of the mischievousness of childhood, the young shepherdesses we meet take their role as guardians of their flocks very seriously, in the same way as the troublemaking young boys arms themselves against the harsh reality of the world by making stinging sling-shots. In total freedom, without the supervision of adults, they rigorously (but not religiously either, or rather, without the violence and intolerance that generally characterise practices of segregation) respect not only the roles assigned to them by tradition, but the tacit rule that girls and boys are not to mix as well.
Although the prevailing atmosphere in this village where everyone calmly goes about their daily business is one of complete peace, at least until night falls, we’re not dealing with a peaceful film here: Wolf and Sheep (which is being sold internationally by Alpha Violet) is a piece with a lot to say. All day, as we pass from one group to another (from the girls to the boys then to the women and sometimes the men, who are a lot less present than the other members of the community here, even though they’re the ones with the most wealth – measured by how many cows they have, as here the notion of money is completely absent), we hear their incessant chattering. In the first half of the film, this consists mainly of a string of legends, all of which are based around animals, explaining the mysteries of the world. Later on, once the viewer is a lot more familiar with the main protagonists of the film, the lively conversations turn to gossip linking the various groups that we follow in turn, and give a sense of unity to this pastoral world. And so, the community comes together in unison before our eyes. Alas, all the while, the carnivorous she-wolf continues her relentless advance.
(Translated from French)