CANNES: Director Shahrbanoo Sadat’s second feature, “The Orphanage” (“Parwareshghah”), premiered at the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight in May, as did her first, “Wolf and Sheep.”
Part of a five-part series, “The Orphanage” falls back on mushy Bollywood songs and exaggerated heroics to push the story of a young orphan in 1980s Soviet-controlled Kabul where the Mujahideen is trying to seize power and reclaim territory.
Sadat freely mixes film fantasy of a melodramatic Indian cinema with a frightening political scenario of a period when the city of Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan were in social and political turmoil.
Living through it all is 15-year-old Qodrat (Quodratollah Qadiri, who was also the lead in “Wolf and Sheep”), who early in the film is seen watching a movie fight with superstar Amitabh Bachchan taking on countless men.
When Qodrat is not inside a cinema, he struggles to earn a living by hawking tickets for Hindi potboilers at a steep premium, which is against the law. Caught by the police, he is sent to a public orphanage with its own peculiar problems of bullying and turf war.
However, a kindhearted administrator (Sediqa Rasuli) intervenes to bring order, and Qodrat starts to have some fun with his roommates, who include his nephew, and a chess wizard (who during a visit to Moscow, arranged for the orphans, beats a computer at the board game).
But life is not all a picnic, with one young inmate being chained and locked up in a mental asylum, and another stealing ammunition from a Russian tank with dire consequences.
Unfortunately, Sadat, who said at Cannes that Bollywood was a huge obsession with Kabul in the 1980s, relies too heavily on the make-believe world of this cinema, and her attempt to mix fact and fiction gets clumsy as the 90-minute film moves toward its finale.
Life at the orphanage, at least during the Soviet occupation, appears a trifle too antiseptic with clean floors, nourishing food and fairytale order. All this changes when the Mujahideen takes over, and the contrast is superficially glaring: Or at least made to look so.