Documentary showing the backstage of production of Samira Makhmalbaf's film Panj É Asr(At Five in the Afternoon), in Kabul, after the fall of the Taliban regime. Everything was recorded ... See full summary »
Documentary showing the backstage of production of Samira Makhmalbaf's film Panj É Asr(At Five in the Afternoon), in Kabul, after the fall of the Taliban regime. Everything was recorded with a small digital camera by Samira's 14-year-old sister Hana. Written by
"All I have done is to show the pain which belongs to the Afghan people, not mine." - Hana Makhmalbaf
Joy of Madness gives a fascinating insight into the Makhmalbaf Film House's methods of casting. We see the efforts that the film crew go to towards seeking out everyday citizens in Kabul who suit the character roles envisaged by Samira for her film At Five in the Afternoon.
The documentary's coup de force is it's modest exposure of a common and deep-seated fear and distrust which emerges in each of Samira's interviewees. Suspicion and uncertainty permeate every level of post-Taleban society, ultimately over-powering any enthusiasm the potential actors have for being part of the project. The tyranny of Taleban rule has shattered their self-confidence and rational thinking: the Mullah goes back on his word, suddenly fearing for his reputation, whilst the gypsy father is paranoid that neighbours will spit on him for letting his ill child be "filmed out of poverty".
Hana Makhmalbaf was only fourteen when she filmed Joy of Madness; in the Tartan DVD leaflet, Tom Dawson suggests that "...she was able to take advantage of her gender and diminutive stature during the shoot, sometimes dismissed as a child playing about with a toy." Some very poignant moments are certainly captured by the film, such as the periods of silence in the minibus as the wary school teacher dreams up excuses to acquit her from Samira's daunting insistence, or the zoomed-in close-ups of the striking faces of Agheleh, the mullah, and others.
Samira is recognised as a ground-breaking filmmaker, flourishing in her father's footsteps and flying the flag for the Makhmalbaf Film House. I have been very impressed by her films At Five in the Afternoon, The Apple, and Blackboards. However, I think that Joy of Madness does not portray her in a good light as such a "volatile, demanding and relentlessly determined figure" (-Tom Dawson). Her vision and determination over-power any tenderness, and this proves immensely disconcerting to her subjects, who, after five years of barbaric Taleban rule, are understandably suspicious of her ambitious promises and subsequent demands of "Don't say no! Don't doubt!". Her desperately pressing approach is nearly enough to scare off Agheleh, the eventual protagonist of the film: it is father Mohsen who actually persuades Agheleh and presents her with a contract, all of which he does in a much more calm and measured fashion than his assertive daughter. Perhaps he is a more influential part of his daughters' film-making careers than we would like to believe?
Samira, with the support of the rest of the crew, confuse the mullah and school teacher by flashing big ideas in front of them, promising letters from the Minister of Education, and promising that the film will be shown in many other countries. Each individual is visibly flattered at having been chosen, and although they like the idea of appearing in a film, they are all alike in their fear of becoming too well known - a social climate no doubt sewn by the Taleban. I can't help feeling that if they had played down the scale and impact of the film - or perhaps if Mohsen had done more of the talking - that the Makhmalbaf crew would have more likely won the trust of the mullah, the teacher, and perhaps other un-tapped potential not shown in this documentary.
This said, At Five in the Afternoon is a powerful and ground-breaking work of great political importance, even though Samira herself has admitted that Hana's Joy of Madness gives the more realistic portrait of contemporary Afghan (or at least Kabuli) society.
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