Jung - In the Land of the Mujaheddin   * * * *  stars     No  MPAA rating
Reviewed by Shelley Cameron
The close-up face of war in Afghanistan
Director : Fabrizio Lazzarette and  Alberto Vendemmiati

Stunning work of documentary filmmaking about the war in Afghanistan.  Made for Italian television and shot in 1999 and 2000.  For more than twenty years the Afghan people have been suffering in every conceivable way.  Now the perpetrators of this anguish have our attention here in the west.  While we all grieve for the 5000 who lost their lives on September 11, too few are aware that one and a half million Afghans have lost theirs in the past 20 years.  

The Mujaheddin are described as an Afghan group that has been fighting to defend their land first against the Russian invasion in 1980 and more recently the Taliban terrorists.  The Taliban are a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mujaheddin.  After long years of struggle with Russia, the climate was ripe for this fundamentalist segment to gain a large measure of power and control through terror and intimidation.  The exhausted Afghan people were easy prey for the militant Taliban.  They come to the villages, kill, maim, and terrorize.  Now it is the Mujaheddin who are left to defeat the Taliban and bring peace to their land.  Taliban strategies include such things as leaving a route open for Afghan refugees who stream out of the country.  Their purpose in doing so is to collect heavy fees for passage or rob them outright on the road.  In this way the Taliban have added to their warchest and padded the huge profits from heroin poppy production.  Since the shooting of this film, there are no remaining Afghans of any means who can pay such fees.  Jung translates as War.  

The focus of this film is the efforts a couple of doctors and nurses to bring some emergency medical assistance to the many victims of the brutal Taliban attacks and the land mines that are everywhere.  The filmmakers teamed up with the medical crew to document the story of conditions in the city of Charikar and the setting up of a better hospital to treat the wounded.

When the medical team first come to offer their aid, the resources are so limited and feeble it is shocking.  There are two blood pressure gauges in the entire area for more than 100,000 people.  There is one IV bag for use in countless amputations for the men; women and children who have stepped on land mines, even in areas that have supposedly been cleared of them.  An open box of burning dung balls heats the small room that serves as a surgery.  There are only six sets of surgical clothing so they must be worn again for the next incoming wounded despite the dangers of infection.

Most of the patients lose arms, legs, feet, or hands.  The surgeon's best efforts are simply to amputate the limbs and save the life.  The faces of these people are heartbreaking and incredibly courageous.  The wretchedness of a boy perhaps ten years old who asks to please be put to sleep during the amputation can not be described.  The victims just keep pouring in to this pathetic facility.  Yet is the effort to tell the story that is also critical.  One of the filmmakers, a long time war correspondent in the area, says at one point that you must do the hard work of going, of seeing for yourself or you cannot try to tell the story.

The scenario here is about the efforts to pull together a new and better emergency hospital.  These humanitarian people discuss and make a decision about how to do the most good.  They scout and find a suitable location.  They lobby for and obtain medical equipment and supplies from several countries.  Among the obstacles is the need to have the Mujaheddin move the assemblage of tanks parked right next to the site because they do not want to invite a missile attack on the hospital.  

The new hospital opens.  There is a little singing and a small celebration.  However, this success pales in comparison to the larger and more tragic flood of victims that continues to come with a new Taliban offensive in the spring of 2000.  The doctor makes a suggestion that the enemy must be in need of similar medical help but it seems to fall on deaf ears.  No one responds.  The people have learned to live in absolute terror of the Taliban.  They tell their individual stories of what happened to them or their loved ones when the Taliban came to their villages.  The women wear the required heavy cumbersome chador because they have seen the Taliban kill or maim those who dared not.  Those who have not fled the country are hungry.  They are tired.  They are poor.  They cannot understand why war has ended in other places, but for them it just goes on and on.  

We see a glimpse of the enemy at a prison camp that holds 270 Taliban soldiers.  One is them is explaining their mission from Allah.  It is clear that they believe they are fighting a holy war and that they will persevere in their cause.  They spend much of their time praying.  The only other view of them is as little fiery explosions in the distance where the Mujaheddin guns have hit something.

This is a powerful film under any circumstances, but it is especially moving and important right now.  It could not be more timely for us to understand the misery these people have endured.  This momentous film should be widely seen.

Reviewed by Shelley Cameron 2001