At only 14, Hana Makhmalbaf has become the youngest-ever feature film
director when her documentary "Joy of Madness," (IMDb listing) a look at the efforts of her
sister, acclaimed director Samira Makhmalbaf, to cast her new feature film
in post-Taliban Afghanistan, was accepted as an official entry into the 2003
Venice Film Festival.
Alas, this is another of those occasions where the hype by far outdoes the
project, in itself a glimpse, not uninteresting, but neither unexpected nor
captivating, afforded Hana solely because of who she is. Given the same
opportunity, most 14-year-olds with a handheld digital camcorder could have
done as well.
Following her older sister Samira through war-torn Kabul as she struggles to
cast her film "At Five in the Afternoon," Hana captures the conventions,
hopes and fears of the people (and particularly the women) of Afghanistan
shortly after the end of the Taliban rule. Filmmaker Samira faces new
challenges as most of her cast change their minds about participating on an
hourly basis, while some stubbornly refuse all along, only to relent
surprisingly quickly, eager to seize this opportunity of a lifetime.
It's not just a documentary, Hana insists, but an independent film exposing
fear and anxiety in a newly liberated and struggling country. In other
words, it's exactly what you'd expect to find. Hana's unorthodox upbringing
(she decided to drop out of school at the age of 8 and became a pupil at her
father's own art school, with his only condition for accepting her choice
being that whatever subject she decided to explore, from riding her bike to
studying philosophy, she'd do it for 8 hours a day for at least one month)
has certainly given her the confidence and focus to pursue the project,
which highlights an awareness and maturity beyond her years.
But the hype has raised expectations she cannot possibly meet, not
least because "Joy of Madness" is a story spanning tremendous cultural
barriers that the film does little to bridge. As alien as it is at times
annoying, with people continuously doing their best to out-shout each other,
the film fails to connect to its audience on any significant level.
Filmfodder Grade: C