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Review: Of Afghan Horrors and Heroes

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By John Anderson

November 23, 2001


(3 1/2 STARS) JUNG (WAR) IN THE LAND OF THE MUJAHEDDIN. (U) Harrowing, courageous and remarkably intimate trip into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, circa 1999-2000. Nice timing, too. Produced and directed by Alberto Vendemmiati, Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Giuseppe Petitto. 1:54 (violence,

gore). In Afghan and Italian with English subtitles. At Cinema Village, 12th Street east of University Place, Manhattan.

THE BUSH administration didn't commission "Jung (War) in the Land of the Mujaheddin" from Italian filmmakers Alberto Vendemmiati, Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Giuseppe Petitto, but it hardly hurts the cause, however inadvertently. The Afghanistan it portrays is a country, and people, with a boot on its neck, the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban having topped off 20 years of constant warfare with an unyielding reign of war, terror, gangsterism and hypocrisy. And you feel like you're there.

That at least some Mujaheddin associate the Taliban with U.S. influence may date the film a bit (not that they're wrong). But that's just a clue to the convoluted politics within an impenetrable morass.

The heroes of this remarkably detailed documentary - other than the various survivors of the omnipresent land mines, shelling and oppression - are an Italian surgeon, Gino Strada, and a war correspondent, Ettore Mo, who collaborate on setting up an emergency hospital in the northern part of the country. As Strada points out early on, not only has violence driven many aid organizations out of the region, many other such groups around the world have rendered themselves strictly irrelevant - by teaching wicker-making to Andeans ("they've been doing it for a thousand years) and cheese making to Kurds ("who've never eaten cheese"). Strada and Mo are out to save lives, if not limbs, and what they encounter en route is both a horrendous path of mayhem and spirit-killing religious tyranny.

Vendemmiati, Lazzaretti and Petitto, whose film was honored at the recent Human Rights Film Festival as well as at the Vancouver Film Festival, attain an astounding access to Afghan places, people and sound: From the frontline roar of a rocket launcher to the wiping of a sawblade at an operating table, there's an immediacy that's gripping, though never the entire story: Their roaming, inquisitive camera and the compression of their editing give the film a broad humanity and scope, be it through a wink, a detail or the weary resignation of one more war widow.

One Mujaheddin-captured Taliban soldier, an import from Pakistan, explains his party's position: "Everybody in the world must embrace Islam, because only that way will their hardships be resolved." For all the horror it depicts, you certainly can't say "Jung" doesn't have a sense of humor.

Copyright 2001, Newsday, Inc.

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