November 4, 2019  (Web Review)

Jirga

Lightyear, 78 min., not rated, DVD: $19.95, Blu-ray: $24.95, Oct. 29

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Mike Wheeler (Sam Smith) is an Australian ex-soldier who arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan, for reasons that won’t be fully apparent until later in the mesmerizing Jirga. All viewers know is that he has come to the city with piles of cash strapped to his torso, looking for a driver willing to take him as far south as Kandahar—Taliban country. Finding transportation is extremely unlikely as everyone keeps telling Mike that no driver will deliver him to certain death. But eventually one man (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad) agrees to take Mike part of the way, embarking on a journey through the alien landscape of Afghanistan’s southern hills and mountains. The remoteness of the arid, rocky, shadow-less terrain, coupled with the constant threat of armed insurgents who could suddenly appear, presents a different visual reference for this world and war. It would be unfair to reveal more of Jirga’s story (except to say that the film’s title is a reference to a group of tribal elders who pass judgement), but the film’s final act is a revelation, offering an unexpected experience of a tiny, Afghan village that is isolated in its own sovereignty—the kind of place where occupying armies have left the legacies of military “accidents” and mistaken judgement calls. Writer-director Benjamin Gilmour has made a striking drama that grabs the viewer and doesn’t let go, reminding us that there are places on Earth of haunting yet lethal magnificence. Recommended. [Note: Blu-ray extras include a “making-of” featurette (8 min.). Bottom line: a small extras package for a solid foreign drama.] (T. Keogh)