Screened as part of NZIFF 2018
An Australian soldier arrives in Afghanistan, his torso strapped with cash. His mission is not militaristic but entirely personal: to make amends for an atrocity committed during a helicopter raid in a village three years earlier. This is the set-up for Australian filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour’s affecting redemption fable Jirga – a perilous journey into Taliban territory that bears some striking parallels to its real-life production story. Gilmour and lead actor Sam Smith were preparing to shoot in Pakistan, when their funding was suddenly withdrawn in fear the proposed script was too ‘politically sensitive’. They decided to make the film anyway. Purchasing a camera at a Pakistani mall and rejigging the script as they went, Gilmour and Smith ventured into Afghanistan on a personal quest of their own, putting themselves at risk in a manner not so dissimilar from their lead character. The old saying “every film is a documentary of its own creation” could hardly be more applicable.
The resulting film is a deceptively small tale that accumulates a profound force by the time our soldier arrives at his destination. Gilmour utilises staggering imagery of plains and vistas to imbue an almost mythical grandeur to the central drama, while still finding plenty room for humanism in the margins (most notably so in a lovely, surreal detour with an amiable taxi driver). Even when less accommodating locals hijack events, Gilmour roots this lean and potent drama in a warmly optimistic conviction of shared humanity. Rarely have combatants been portrayed with such even-handed grace by an outsider. — JF