Overridden with guilt, former Australian soldier Mike (Sam Smith) returns to the village in Afghanistan he raided three years ago to find the family of an un-armed civilian he shot dead. Jirga follows Mike’s journey to find the village to confess and, somehow, repay the family for the loss of their husband and father. Meanwhile, he has to hide in the Afghanistan desert—which is riddled with Taliban and ISIS soldiers.
The production of this film is extremely impressive. Director Benjamin Gilmore initially intended to shoot Jirga in Pakistan, following a similar plot line to the film I watched last night. However, upon arrival in Pakistan, the funding of the film was cut since the government disagreed with the story. Gilmore jumped on a plane, bought a new camera, and crossed over to neighbouring country Afghanistan. Consequently, he created Jirga—a word given to the village justice system in Afghanistan, and the body of people left to determine Mike’s fate.
This film is saturated with the heartache and loss of war, but what I loved about Jirga is that it encompassed a small pocket of hopeful compassion that can be found entwined with feelings of despair and loss. Compassion is not only expressed by protagonist Mike, but also by the soldiers and families found in the Afghanistan desert. Jirga depicts the Afghans as not ‘other’ but simply as humans who are forced to feel, and live, the first-hand consequences of war.
Gilmore did an excellent job of making me feel as though I was following Mike on his journey to find this family. The camera work epitomised the feeling of running and hiding. In conjunction, the lack of subtitles provided when Pashto conversations were being exchanged by Afghani soldiers made me feel just as lost and confused as I imagine any foreign soldier would in such circumstances. Jirga gave my imagination a very strong framework as I attempted to place myself in Mike’s shoes.
Despite having to leave the theatre 30 minutes into the film to pay for a second parking ticket, I didn’t feel as though my engrossment of it had been interrupted. Even walking back to the cinema, I felt anxious for the wellbeing of Mike, and incredibly invested in his ultimate goal to find this family.
One thing I will say, however, is the slow start made me feel very detached from the characters and the story. I felt I was seeing a whole lot but understanding very little. After sticking through it, I realised the shots of men singing in Pashto, the city markets, and the beautiful landscape pans simply strengthened those feelings I experienced later in the film. It is saddening to see a city like Kabul, and its people, exist in a place of war.
There were some really beautiful moments and some rather confronting moments in this film; in one scene I’m looking at the white Afghan desert with its clear blue waters, and in the next, I’m watching this environment used as a stage for the theatre of war. There are many war movies that sensationalise and capitalise on the dramatic action of war—but not Jirga. I would strongly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in seeing another perspective of war.
Jigra is showing at selected Luna cinemas now.