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Joy of Madness

  The Joy of Madness
Madness, or joy, awaits beneath a flowered cloth.

© 2004, Makhmalbaf Productions
All Rights Reserved

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

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