Review: Wolf and Sheep (2016)

Wolf and Sheep (2016)

Directed by: Shahrbanoo Sadat | 86 minutes | drama | Actors: Sediqa, Qodrat, Amina, Sahar, Masuma, Mohammad Amin, Zekria, Qorban Ali, Ali Khan

As the youngest participant ever in the Director’s Fortnight of the Cannes film festival, the then 26-year-old Afghan director Shahrbanoo Sadat immediately won the Art Cinema Award for best feature film in 2016. Her debut ‘Wolf and Sheep’ provides a wonderful insight into the daily life of a secluded village community in Afghanistan, in which life is explained through fantastic stories. Like that of the Kashmir wolf, who walks on two legs and in which a green fairy hides. Sadat has both wolf and fairy wander through the village now and then, which gives the film a magical-realistic touch.

The film, like more interesting stories, begins with a death. The father of the young boy Qodrat has died of cancer and a few customs are immediately apparent. The men slaughter a sheep, while the women muse on Allah’s will with the widow inside. Qodrat’s mother is looking for a new husband and actually wants to put Qodrat and her other children with her sister in the city, a donkey ride twelve days away. Qodrat doesn’t like it and isolates himself more and more from everything and everyone.

Except for Sediqa, a girl who is shunned by the other girls from the village because of her supposedly weird eyes and crazy walk (with a big basket on her back). Qodrat finds in her an equal soul. Together they steal potatoes and Qodrat teaches her to throw stones. For the greater part of the film, village life is seen through their eyes and it is striking, for example, how little affection is shown. For example, the children are supposed to herd the sheep and goats, but if there is an attack by a few wolves, they get the full brunt of the adults, because they have not prevented animals from being bitten to death.

The adults among themselves are constantly scheming and navel-gazing and that is excellently imitated by the kids. A beautiful scene is when a couple of girls act out a wedding and start negotiating the price of the bride. That’s how the days go together. Sometimes quarrels arise, accidents happen, but above all stories are told. Throughout the film there is no music (except for the credits), but you only hear the ambient sounds and the chatter of the villagers.

Like the Mongolian director Byambasuren Davaa (including ‘The Story of the Weeping Camel’ (2003) and ‘The Cave of the Yellow Dog’ (2005)), Sadat partly bases his work on his own experiences. She knows the village life she films, so the smallest details are convincing. The authenticity is also increased because she does not use professional actors, but lets Afghan villagers play (a version of) themselves. This approach is reminiscent of Eric Valli, who for ‘Himalaya’ (1999) largely recorded Nepalese village life in the Himalayas with amateurs. In terms of image, ‘Himalaya’ and ‘Wolf and Sheep’ are also close to each other. Cinematographer Virginie Surdej shows the mountain landscape in the most beautiful possible ways.

Where ‘Wolf and Sheep’ does differ from the examples cited is the narrative. The film feels more like a documentary than a detailed story. You will get a glimpse of the secluded life that the village community leads. As soon as a threat emanates from the inhabited world, in the form of armed men approaching the village, the film ends abruptly. But then you have been able to marvel at an Afghanistan that is rarely shown. And that turns out to be of great beauty.

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