The Dutch filmmaker Cyrus Frisch is known as an enfant terrible in the Dutch film world. With “Why did no one tell me things would get so bad in Afghanistan” he confirms this reputation once again. The improbably long title not only conveys the content, but makes it immediately clear that this is not a “normal” film. “Why didn’t anyone …” (to make the movie title easier to read) is even the first full-length feature shot entirely with a mobile phone. The film premiered at the film festival in Rotterdam and then toured various prestigious festivals around the world.
For the recordings of his images Frisch used a 3.2 megapixel camera – which in itself is not particularly high quality, but perhaps good enough for a phone screen without losing too much sharpness. On a larger screen, say of a television, or worse: a cinema screen) it is more likely to be rather blurry. Headaches – as reported by some reviewers who saw the film at a festival in the cinema – don’t get you on DVD, but it’s certainly not a feast for the eyes. On the contrary, watery or dry eyes are not excluded.
The use of only a mobile phone, with which Frisch only records his immediate surroundings, has interesting dimensions: it feels authentic and is very personal and close by. Especially when such, sometimes choppy and blurry images, are now known all over the world as “real life” reports by ordinary people about disasters, accidents, revolutions and war. As a concept it was ingeniously conceived, but in the implementation the poor quality of the camera will avenge itself after a while. Shooting the images in this way makes it less suitable for the medium of film and certainly not in this format and playing time. Wouldn’t it have been better to make a short film of ten to twenty minutes at most? Wouldn’t that have had much more of an impact than having to spend seventy minutes looking at – yes, what exactly?
Frisch himself is the Afghanistan veteran, who films from his balcony in Amsterdam what happens on the street and in his life. Young people hanging around in front of his door. Close-ups of themselves. People at work. Police officers confronting the loitering youth. A biker. Household chores, such as taking out the garbage, moving a couch further down the street, the pots on the balcony. After a while everything disappears in a vague mix of grainy images. Now and then a flash of Afghanistan comes through. These images are sharp, unfortunately the relief lasts only a short time and you are soon immersed again in shots that are difficult to interpret. Frisch makes clear connections between the war there, initiated with the voice of then Minister Kamp (Defense), about why the Netherlands wants to contribute to improving the praise of the Afghans, to the hardening and coarsening here. At the same time, it appears that the veteran has more and more difficulty adjusting himself to “normal” life – which is constantly spilling over into the war situation where he found himself.
It is a subject about which there is much to be discussed and about which Frisch makes a statement. Still, the title “Why has no one …” is somewhat surprising: you would expect the soldiers who were dispatched to know what they were getting into? Frisch does not explain, but leaves much in the middle. It is an interesting failure to quote a well-known phrase.