The Orphanage (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

May 18th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Sharbanoo Sadat; Cast: Quodrattolah Quadri,  Ahmed Fayaz Osmani, Hasibukkah Rasooli, Eshanullah Kharoti, Anwar Hashimi, Asadullah Kabiri; Den/Ger/France/ Lux/Afghanistan 2019, 90 min. 

Writer/director Sharbanoo Sadat (29) won the Quinzaine Main Prize in 2016 for her debut feature Wolf and Sheep, as well as CICAE-Festival Award for “most daring feature”. Born in Tehran, she grew up in a remote village in Afghanistan, that forms the setting of her feature debut, after studying documentary filmmaking in Kabul; The Orphanage is part of a planned quintology based on the diaries of her friend Anwar Hashimi.

Kabul 1989 is under Soviet rule, but teen-cousins Qudrat (Quadri) and Fayaz (Osmani are not really that worried about politics. Qudrat, a Bollywood fan, dreams about becoming a famous actor and the boys make some money selling scalped cinema tickets. Finally, their luck runs out and they land up in a Russian orphanage. There they immediately turn their attentions to the girls in their class, and even the female teachers. Instead of listening to the teacher, Qudrat dreams himself into the role of a heroic lover impressing his beautiful girlfriend – no other than the girl sitting in front of him in class. In his dorm, Fayaz is “christened” ‘Redhead’ by Eshan (Kharoti), the main bully on the block. Meanwhile Eshan’s best friend Asad (Kabiri) steals a new T-shirt and shoes from a much younger boy. The two are then confronted by the supervisor (Hashimi), who stands up for the younger boys. Love-sick Qudrat meanwhile somehow gets into the Deputy Headmistress’s bedroom, while she is asleep. The whole orphanage then heads off to Moscow, to spend time with a ‘Pioneer’ Group. The main focus of the trip is to interest the boys in Soviet ideology by visiting Lenin’s Tomb. But the kids are much more interested in the Pioneer girls. After their return to Kabul, Hasib (Rasoli) and some of his friends find an overturned Soviet tank. They steal bullets, Hasib has a tragic accident when of them explodes. Fayaz comes down with a mystery illness, and is transferred to a psychiatric ward, where he eventually recovers. Eshan challenges one of the younger boys to a chess game, but turns violent when he loses, and the antics eventually come to a head and Eshan is expelled. When the Mujahidin advance on Kabul, Hashimi asks the boys to burn all written material in the courtyard. An impressive finale sees Qudrat again in “cinema mode”, this time in a musical, singing “Death is our Lover”, whilst defending Hashimi from the violent Islamic State soldiers.

Shooting in Tajikistan, DoP Virginie Surdej is able to turn Sadat’s overflowing imagination into stunning images. Qudrat’s wonderfully anarchic “cinema stunts” are brilliant, and the interactions of the boys with their Russian teachers is equally impressive in their subtlety. The ensemble cast is convincing, and Sadat’s untamed approach is a refreshing change from the calculated story-telling in so many films nowadays. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2019

                           

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