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Ein Traum von Kabul (1996)

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Title: Ein Traum von Kabul (1996)

Ein Traum von Kabul (1996) on IMDb 7/10

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Bommi Baumann ...
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Timothy Leary ...
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One of my favourite documentaries
16 April 2006 | by (Brisbane, Australia) – See all my reviews

This somewhat obscure documentary is one of the very best documentaries that I've seen. It basically follows in the path of the hippies who left western countries for the east (though this doco focuses on Afghanistan) during the early 1970's. They were ostensibly in search of the allegedly more spiritual and meaningful life to be found there, or so the propaganda would have you believe. The film contains footage in Afghanistan from two time periods, some from the early 1970's when the hippies first made the trek, then additional footage from the filmmakers return in the 1990's. It contains interviews with some famous or semi-famous people who went to Afghanistan (LSD proponent Timothy Leary, musicians Donovan & Embryo, terrorist Bommi Baumann) as well as number of anonymous German hippies.

The documentary is edited as a sort of cautionary tale. Initially we see the various interviewees talking of how wonderful Afghanistan is, and about their lives prior to moving to Afghanistan. Then the doco gets to the point. A German hippie bimbo is shown talking enthusiastically, monomaniacally about her drug trips, to the point where the interviewers try to prompt her to talk about something else. After this, the facade is brutally pulled away, and the directors show us the banal true purpose of the whole "spiritual quest" - dirty, pathetic junkies chasing cheap drugs. But although the drugs were cheap, there was also little money to be made working in Afghanistan. The junkies either ended up dead from overdoses, lived lives of misery and squalor, or moved back home if they could, deeply regretting the lifestyle they had been led into. Eventually the civil war destroyed what little had attracted the hippies in the first place. The most affecting bit was an interview with a junkie lying in a dirty bed, shivering from heroin withdrawal, sobbing in pain, self-pity & remorse as he expresses his heartfelt wish to go home. As such he seemed to speak for many sucked into the 1960's utopian mirage.

The film is structured to reflect the film-makers' own initial gullibility towards the "spiritual quest" nonsense and how these fantasies were shattered by their disillusionment, shock & disgust with what they found. They selectively show only favourable answers and images at the start, and only the horrible stuff towards the end. As such they had an agenda with this doco, trying to highlight what a load of destructive crap were the utopian fantasies of the 1960's. Not all the interviewees could be pigeonholed into this structure. For instance, when the interviewers tried to prompt a couple of Kabul market stallholders into saying that they were glad the filthy, disgusting hippies were gone despite the loss of business, one seemed a little unwilling to play along. Likewise neither Embryo (who came to Afghanistan to learn the folk music) nor Bommi Baumann (who was fleeing German justice) had anything bad to say about Afghanistan; in these cases the film points out that they also came for strictly pragmatic reasons unrelated to the search for Utopia. However the overall message is powerful and undiminished - beware of utopian fantasists who tell you the grass is both greener and cheaper on the other side.


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