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Publication date: 03/15/2002

Jung (War) In the Land of the Mujaheddin

A documentary by Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Alberto Vendemmiati; in Dari (an Afghan language) and Italian with English subtitles. Not rated.

Blurring the front line

By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Of The Examiner Staff

    Sometimes we reviewers see films that are, frankly, quite unpleasant -- like bad-tasting medicine. But the purpose of medicine is to make you better, and so it goes that these kinds of films do too.

    Directed by Fabrizio Lazzaretti, Guiseppe Petitto and Alberto Vendemmiati, the new documentary "Jung (War) In the Land of the Mujaheddin" may not make you feel better, exactly, but it will enlighten you, expand your thought process, and lift you out of the Hollywood Matrix that prefers to batter you with military recruitment films disguised as "Saving Private Ryan" and the like.

    "Jung (War) In the Land of the Mujaheddin," which opens today at the Roxie, would most likely have stirred little interest in the U.S. had the 9/11 attacks never happened, but now it appears as fresh and painful as a clip from today's headlines. (Incidentally, "Jung" is pronounced "jang" and means "war.")

    In the film, our three filmmakers travel to Afghanistan in 1999 and 2000 to document the efforts of one Dr. Gino Strada, who wishes to establish a hospital to care for the victims of Taliban rule, many of whom have been injured by land mines. Kate Rowlands, a British nurse, and Ettore Mo, an Italian journalist, are his companions.

    We learn that war in Afghanistan has raged for 20 years and that 1.5 million have died. ("They will always fight each other -- they will always need war to live," says one interviewee.) The filmmakers interview children who have lost limbs in land-mine explosions, families who have lost their homes, and Northern Alliance fighters -- including the famous "Lion of the Panjshir" who was assassinated just before Sept. 11.

    Our filmmakers frequently find themselves on the battlefront with real bullets whizzing over their heads and real tanks creeping by. Unlike those in Hollywood war movies, the camera in this film shakes when an explosion erupts nearby, and we sense that the danger is very real. At one point, the doctor explains that his new hospital site is a potential target because of the many tanks parked nearby.

    The film's success comes not so much from its filmic style than from its fearless recording of this subject matter. But when Ettore Mo explains that as a journalist he's more interested in the small details -- the hidden stories -- rather than politics or military strategies, he sums up the film very nicely. We never learn how this conflict started, and we're not even sure if these combatants and civilians themselves know. It's just that they've been taught to hate an enemy, just as that enemy has been taught to hate them. (We witness some down-and-out civilians who simply wish that the Taliban would "go away.")

    Those with weak stomachs should probably not view "Jung (War) In the Land of the Mujaheddin," as the film does not shy away from the most horrible aspects of this war, from rotted corpses to bloody stumps to mutilated children. For the rest of us, the truth does indeed hurt.

    E-mail Jeffrey M. Anderson at

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