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Review: Wolf and Sheep (2016)

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

The youngest ever participant in the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Festival, the then 26-year-old Afghan director immediately won the Art Cinema Award for best feature film in 2016. Her debut “Wolf and Sheep” gives a wonderful glimpse into the daily life of a secluded village community in Afghanistan, where life is explained through fantastic stories. Such as that of the Kashmir wolf, which walks on two legs and hides a fairy. Sadat now and then lets both wolf and fairy wander through the village, which gives the film a magical-realistic touch.

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

Except from Sediqa, a girl who is avoided by the other girls from the village because of her so-called strange eyes and crazy walk (with a large basket on her back). finds an equal soul in her. Together they steal potatoes and Qodrat teaches her to throw stones. For most 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 tend the sheep and goats, but once there is an attack from a few wolves, they get the brunt of the adults, because they have not prevented animals from being bitten to death.

The adults are constantly fiddling with each other and navel gazing and that is imitated excellently by the kids. A beautiful scene is when a couple of girls reenact an arranged marriage and negotiate the price of the bride. So the days come together. Quarrels sometimes 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 talk 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 relies partly on his own experiences. She knows the village life that she films, so that the smallest details convince. The authenticity is also increased because she does not use professional actors, but allows Afghan villagers to play (a version of) themselves. This approach is reminiscent of Eric Valli, who recorded Nepalese village life in the Himalayas with amateurs for “Himalaya” (1999). 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 ways.

Where “Wolf and Sheep” differs from the examples cited, is the narrative. The feels more like a than a detailed story. You get a glimpse of the secluded life that the village community leads. As soon as civilization threatens, 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 for almost 90 minutes. And that appears to be of great beauty.

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