Elderly Dastaguir and his newly deaf 5-year-old grandson Yassin hitchhike and walk, but mostly walk, as they make their way to the coal mine where Dastaguir's son Murad works. Dastaguir ...
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Dimitri de Clercq,
Elderly Dastaguir and his newly deaf 5-year-old grandson Yassin hitchhike and walk, but mostly walk, as they make their way to the coal mine where Dastaguir's son Murad works. Dastaguir must tell Murad that the rest of their family were all killed in a recent bomb attack.Written by
The second Afghanistan export in recent years to gain international acclaim, Earth and Ashes is not entirely different in mood and style from its more successful predecessor Osama; both richly populated with unforgettable imagery and floating upon a wistfully deliberate pace, and ingrained with the pain of a nation just now coming to its own.
Set against the sandy dunes of nowhere in Afghanistan, this film tells the tale of an old man bringing his deaf grandson to seek his son and tell him the news that his village has been burned down, and most of his family is dead. The simple and direct premise gives a sense of immediacy to the film, leaving much of it as the physical journey of an old man looking for hope in a desolate world, and at the same time, coming to terms with his loss. For his loss is even more than personal; his loss is a loss of his homeland, where everything he once knew is ravaged and sacrileged by powers not of any control of his.
At once both a modern day Middle Eastern Odysseus carrying his deaf Telemachus along with him; and a Moses set off by pain onward to his spiritual journey of acceptance of loss, leading his only peoplehis grandsonout of suffering and hopefully into something better; the old man embarks on his arduous journey wearier but not as empowered as either of them. His search for spiritual redemption is framed against the sparse landscapes of ancient Afghanistan, a land which has seen too much pain and destruction, that it is no wonder the more recent Afghanistan movies are filled with regret and sorrow. Criticism would be leveled at this facet as pandering to the ignorant and susceptible West where knowledge of the Middle East can only rest at this level. Yet, if this can hardly be seen as criticism, it is because the universe in which this film inhabits is one that is not on this plane of reality, but rather a reality that has all its truth and goodness washed away, with its inhabitants left to make out what is left of their lives and their homeland.
For everywhere we see in this film, is of burning villages and barren deserts. And yet, amongst the desert, there is often a single shrub of vegetation that manages to eke an existence out of its harsh landscape. And for every burning village, there are people left behind to bury the dead.
Indeed, it is often said, and in this movie too, that the survivors are often worst off than the dead, because they have to shoulder the burden of having to live on; to have their hearts broken again and again, driven mad by the incessant frequency of destruction and deaths and having lost any sense of purpose in life. Even though the old man is lucky enough to have a sole purpose in life--to seek his son--the film is often meandering in his wavering doubt of the good it would do to let his son know about this painful truth, often touching on the aspect of truth and the fact that truth might often do anyone more harm than good.
This strong sense of doubt and uncertainty permeates the film's reality too, punctuating it with surrealistic images amidst the desert. It is a feverish nightmare in which the people in the film are trapped in a purgatory, haunted by the spirits of the dead, and struggling to find a meaning to all this. In all its hypnotic mirages, only the concept of pain and loss remains the most real, bringing the old man and his grandson back to earth time after time; the fact that they still have each other, but not much else.
At one point of the movie, the young boy, ignorant to the fact that he is deaf, pleads with his grandfather to bring him to somewhere where there is more noise, not knowing that even if he could hear, everything would still be under a shroud of deathly silence. In all the film's silence and echoes of the dead, it is a poetic elegy of loss and the need for its painful acceptance in life. It is a sorrowful journey of spiritual and mythical proportions, one that all of us have to face somehow, and not withdraw from the truth and our broken hearts.
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